DUBLIN, Feb 20 -- The Irish government on Sunday publicly identified three of Sinn Fein's top figures, including party leader Gerry Adams, as members of the Irish Republican Army command.
The government's blunt declaration indicated it no longer would tolerate Adams's protestations that his party should not be held accountable for the actions of the outlawed IRA. The shift is intended to force the IRA to disarm fully and disband or risk the marginalization of the legal Sinn Fein.
Political passions are reaching a boiling point in Ireland over accusations that the IRA was involved in a $50 million robbery of a Belfast bank and an unfolding investigation into money laundering. The Irish government said Sinn Fein leaders were involved in both.
Over the past decade of peace efforts in Northern Ireland, leaders of successive Irish and British governments have privately said they considered Adams and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's deputy leader, to be members of the seven-member IRA command, called the army council. To maintain good relations with Sinn Fein, neither government has confronted them about this in public.
But during a debate on a national radio station, Justice Minister Michael McDowell identified Adams, McGuinness and Martin Ferris as members of the army council. McDowell condemned what he called their "deep, deep dishonesty."
McGuinness, who served two short prison sentences for IRA membership in the mid-1970s, rejected McDowell's accusations and insisted that none of them was in the IRA.
The Irish foreign minister, Dermot Ahern, backed McDowell's assessment.
"We're absolutely satisfied that the leadership of Sinn Fein and the IRA are interlinked. They're two sides of the one coin," Ahern said.
Ferris is one of Sinn Fein's five lawmakers in the 166-member Irish Parliament. In 1984, he was caught trying to smuggle weapons into Northern Ireland on a ship from Boston and spent eight years in prison. The Irish government had already identified him as an IRA army council member.
A 1998 peace accord offered freedom for IRA prisoners and a place for Sinn Fein in a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. In exchange, Sinn Fein was to observe "exclusively peaceful and democratic means," and the IRA was to disarm fully by mid-2000.