The protests came as Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's president, angrily challenged the Irish authorities to arrest him and Martin McGuinness if they believed they knew in advance about December's pounds 26.5m Belfast bank robbery.
This followed a new official report, which repeated allegations that Sinn Fein leaders knew in advance about the robbery and recommended sanctions against the republican party. The events of the day deepened the atmosphere of confrontation and deadlock that has permeated the peace process since the robbery. In particular relations between Sinn Fein and the Dublin government have reached an icy low.
Last night's roadblocks disrupted traffic in west, north and south Belfast, Dublin, Londonderry, Newry and Strabane.
The IRA and Sinn Fein have repeatedly denied involvement in the robbery, but have convinced almost no one. The latest quip in Belfast is that "10 out of nine people don't believe the Provos". Yesterday's report by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) declared that some senior figures in Sinn Fein are also senior members of the IRA, and that Sinn Fein was "in a position to exercise considerable influence on PIRA's major policy decisions".
Although Commission members yesterday refused to name the Sinn Fein members concerned, security sources on both sides of the border maintain that the IRA's seven-man "army council" includes three prominent Sinn Fein figures.
They point the figure at Mr Adams, the Westminster MP for West Belfast, the party's chief negotiator and Mid-Ulster MP, Martin McGuinness, and Martin Ferris, who is a member of the Dail (parliament) in Dublin.
The security belief is that Pat Doherty, the MP for West Tyrone, was also a member of the army council and stepped down some time ago to be replaced by a purely IRA figure.
Although the reasons for this are unclear, one view is that it was an amicable adjustment designed to give the IRA a 4-3 balance on the army council, possibly to reassure the grassroots that the military men were in the majority.
In recent weeks, Sinn Fein has taken a verbal savaging at the hands of Bertie Ahern, the Irish Taoiseach, and Michael McDowell, his Justice minister. In the Dail Mr Ahern eyed Mr Ferris and other Sinn Fein members as he spoke of "the kind of tactics in which you and some of your friends engage".
Mr Adams said: "I feel a particular sense of betrayal by the Taoiseach. I think the Taoiseach has crossed the line and the line that he has crossed - and I took legal advice on this - was to accuse Martin McGuinness and I of conspiracy to rob, and of withholding information. I feel particularly angry about that. He has no option but to have us arrested, to shut up or to put up on this issue."
Mr Dowell, declaring that some of the "household names" of Sinn Fein were also members of the army council, said: "As long as Sinn Fein is linked to the IRA and the IRA is carrying out illegal activity, then Sinn Fein can't be admitted to an exclusively democratic process."
The IMC said the IRA had carried out a pounds 2m robbery of cigarettes in Belfast in October, a pounds 1m supermarket robbery last May, and a bank robbery in County Tyrone in September. "Sinn Fein must bear its share of responsibility for all the incidents. Some of its senior members ... were involved in sanctioning the robberies," it said. The committee said that, had the Belfast Assembly been in existence, it would have recommended removing Sinn Fein ministers from office. It added that the Government should consider fines. The Government is to respond to its recommendations later this month.
ARE THESE MEN ON THE IRA ARMY COUNCIL?
Sinn Fein's chief negotiator was a striking success as Northern Ireland's education minister. He served a jail term in the Irish Republic for IRA membership in the Seventies. He denied being a member of the IRA but, under pressure during the inquiry into Bloody Sunday, he said he had been the organisation's second-in- command in early 1972. He has said he left the IRA "for personal reasons''.Reuse content