Bertie Ahern has unequivocally blamed the main republican paramilitary organisation for the massive Belfast bank robbery late last year.

In an interview for RTÉ's 'This Week' programme, he said 'This was an IRA job, a Provisional IRA job which would have been known to the political leadership'.

He said that he was upset that the planning of this crime must have been going on when the Government were engaged in intensive talks to get a comprehensive agreement.

This would have been known to people in senior positions in the republican movement he said.

Sinn Féin Dáil leader, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, said it was a disgrace that the Irish Government had accepted without question the opinion of the North's Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

He said Orde has not produced any evidence to back his allegations.

Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said there can not be a comprehensive political deal in the North until there is an end to all criminal as well as terrorist activity by paramilitary groups. 

Mr Blair was commenting in a BBC television interview on last Friday's statement by the North's Chief Constable, Hugh Orde.

Mr Orde said that he believed the IRA was responsible for last month's huge robbery at the Northern Bank headquarters in Belfast. 

Mr Blair said unionists had accepted the need to share power with republicans and nationalists, but they had every right to refuse to do so as long as one group was still associated with paramilitaries involved in violence.