Sinn Fein vowed yesterday to oppose a government move to penalise the party with financial sanctions because of the continuing IRA violence in Northern Ireland.
Several parties dismissed the move as inconsequential, but Paul Murphy, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said it would "reflect society's disapproval and public displeasure" at the persistence of republican and loyalist violence.
Acting on the recommendations of an international commission, Mr Murphy has halted payment of the annual £120,000 office allowance payable to Sinn Fein for the suspended Belfast Assembly. His move was backed by the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, who described the report from the Independent Monitoring Commission as extremely disturbing. He said he believed the IRA had been involved in criminal activity in Dublin port.
The report said the IRA may have been responsible for the abduction and murder of a man last year, and was certainly involved in the attempted abduction of a dissident republican, Bobby Tohill, in Belfast in February. It contradicted the IRA claim that they had not sanctioned the Tohill incident.
The commission laid the blame for most of the continuing violence at the door of loyalists, saying they had been responsible for most murders, nearly twice as many shootings and more than twice as many assaults as republicans.
But it blamed republicans for 120 "punishment" shootings and assaults since the beginning of last year, as well as the hijacking of lorries carrying consignments of cigarettes.
The report said: "Despite the significant reduction in murders and many other forms of crime associated with the troubles, paramilitary activity as a whole is at a disturbingly high level, and violence short of murder is at a level which would cause outrage in the rest of the UK or in Ireland."
The report stopped short of naming Sinn Fein politicians as also being members of the IRA, but it declared: "Some members, including some senior members, of Sinn Fein are also members, including, in some cases, senior members of Pira [Provisional IRA]."
Recommending the withholding of Assembly allowances and possibly salaries, it said: "Sinn Fein must bear its responsibility for the continuation by the IRA of illegal paramilitary activity and must recognise the implications of being in this position."
Bairbre de Brun, the Sinn Fein former minister said her party did not accept the report and would fight the government politically on the sanctions it imposed. She added: "The IMC has no credibility with the broad nationalist electorate. It is a disgrace that the Irish government has signed up to the establishment of this body in the first place."
In the Commons, Ian Paislety, the Democratic Unionist Party leader declared: "Can you take sanctions against terrorists by bringing in a murder tax? And that's exactly what you are trying to do."
Seamus Mallon, the Nationalist MP, said: "The type of petty cash penalties that are being specified are actually risible and will be an embarrassment, not just to the government but to the political process."
Mr Murphy described Northern Ireland as "an infinitely better place to live and to work than it was 10 years ago" but said firm, carefully measured action was needed to underline that all paramilitary activity should cease fully and completely.Reuse content