Quoting a police spokesperson, Ireland’s RTE state radio said that one of the raids in Cork, “targeted funding to the Provisional IRA”.

According to RTE, a former elected politician from Sinn Fein, as well as a man who works in the financial services sector, were among those being held in Cork.

The crime plunged into crisis moves to restore Northern Ireland’s suspended power-sharing government, which had come close to success shortly beforehand.

Police chiefs in both parts of Ireland have blamed the outlawed IRA, but until now have failed to recover any of the cash or charge anyone in connection with the robbery.

Politicians in London and Dublin and the independent body which monitors the activities of Northern Irish paramilitary groups, also accused the IRA of carrying out the raid.

Police this week raided a property near the south-west Ireland city of Cork, arrested three men and a woman, and recovered the reported STG2 million ($AUD4.8 million).

They couldn’t immediately confirm whether the money matched records of the notes stolen from the Northern Bank in Belfast.

Earlier, police said they raided another property in Dublin, where they arrested three men and seized at least STG60,000 ($A144, 421).

They also couldn’t confirm whether this was money stolen from the bank, but confirmed that some of the money was in the Northern Ireland’s own brand.

The two connected raids, police said, were targeting suspected money-laundering operations of the outlawed Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The seizures and arrests may represent the first major breakthrough in months of police work to identify the gang responsible for stealing STG26.5 million ($AUD63.79 million) from the Northern Bank on December 20, 2004 – the biggest cash theft in history.

Police, in keeping with usual practice, refused to identify any of the arrested people by name.

Under powers of Ireland’s Offences Against the State Act, all seven can be interrogated without charge until tomorrow night or Saturday morning.

Sinn Fein declined immediate comment. The party previously has stressed it believes IRA denials of involvement in the robbery.

The December 20 operation involved months of planning. Gangs with inside knowledge of the Northern Bank’s operations held hostage the families of two key security employees of the bank, and forced them to empty the main cash vault after closing time.

The alarm wasn’t raised until hours after the robbers’ getaway, when the wife of one of the coerced bank workers stumbled out of a secluded forest south of Belfast.

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