The Sinn Féin president has challenged the Taoiseach to have him arrested for conspiracy in relation to the Northern Bank robbery, or else withdraw his accusations that the Sinn Féin leadership had prior knowledge of the raid.

Responding to Gerry Adams' remarks, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach said that anyone familiar with the Irish rule of law would know that Mr Ahern has no power to direct the arrest of anyone.

Mr Adams' comments came as the Minister for Justice said the Government fully accepted the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission and its main conclusions that the IRA was responsible for the Northern Bank raid in Belfast.

Michael McDowell said that the independent body had reached its conclusion by getting independent evidence to back up its claim.

The minister also said that he believed leading members of the IRA were household names and were people who appeared on television.

He supported Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's view that Sinn Féin and the IRA were two sides of the same coin.

Mr McDowell added that the leadership of the republican movement called the shots for Sinn Féin and the IRA, and that there is no split in the organisation.

In a heated interview outside Leinster House, Gerry Adams rejected the commission's report as rubbish. He also accused Mr Ahern and Mr McDowell of being involved in dirty politics.

'Searing indictment': Kenny

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has described the IMC report as a 'searing indictment' of the behaviour of Sinn Féin and the IRA.

Mr Kenny has called for the Criminal Assets Bureau to target the assets of people who have benefited from the proceeds of IRA criminality.

He has also called on Mr McDowell to ensure that the CAB has sufficient resources to go after these people, including resources to establish a special unit to focus on paramilitary criminality if necessary.

The Labour leader, Pat Rabbitte, said that it was make-your-mind-up time for Sinn Féin on criminality.

He said that after the publication of the report, no reasonable person could be left in any doubt as to the responsibility of the IRA for the Northern Bank robbery, or the extent to which senior members of Sinn Féin were involved in sanctioning this and earlier robberies.

IRA blamed for other robberies

The IMC report on the Northern Bank raid was published in Belfast earlier today. It concludes that the robbery on 20 December was 'planned and undertaken by the Provisional IRA'.

The commission also blames the Provisional IRA for three other major robberies in Dunmurry, Strabane and Belfast.
'We believe that the Northern Bank robbery and abductions - and the other robberies and abductions - were carried out with the prior knowledge and authorisation of the leadership of PIRA', says the report.

In the commission's view, Sinn Féin must bear its share of responsibility for all of the incidents. The IMC says some of Sinn Féin's senior members are also senior members of PIRA, and were involved in sanctioning the series of robberies.

The IMC report continues: 'Sinn Féin cannot be regarded as committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means so long as its links to PIRA remain as they are and PIRA continues to be engaged in violence or other crime.

'Although we note Sinn Féin has said it is opposed to criminality of any kind, it appears at times to have its own definition of what constitutes a crime. We do not believe the party has sufficiently discharged its responsibility to exert all possible influence to prevent illegal activities on the part of PIRA'.

The IMC says that if the Assembly were now sitting, the commission would be recommending the implementation of a full range of measures, including exclusion from office.

It has recommended that the Northern Secretary should consider exercising the powers he has in the absence of the Assembly to implement the measures which are presently applicable, namely the financial ones.

The IMC report concludes: 'The leadership and rank and file of Sinn Féin need to make the choice between continued association with and support for PIRA criminality and the path of an exclusively democratic political party. Only in that way can trust be restored. Until this happens, it is hard to see how further useful progress can be made.'