IN what other part of the United Kingdom than Northern Ireland would it be possible for a chief constable to identify those responsible for a major crime at a press conference without having made any arrests and without producing any evidence? The answer is nowhere, yet on Friday in Belfast Hugh Orde, Northern Ireland's chief constable, said he was satisfied that the IRA had carried out the audacious bank raid which netted 26.5 million pounds just before Christmas. Mr Orde would certainly have not made his statement unless he had previously consulted or informed the British and Irish governments. For many years those without first-hand knowledge of Northern Ireland have been bemused by the way in which politics and government are conducted there; Mr Orde's public finger-pointing at the IRA should convince all observers that things are done differently in Britain's troubled province.

The IRA has said that it did not carry out the bank raid and Gerry Adams, for Sinn Fein, has said that he believes that. Many people are now asking whether they can any longer believe Gerry Adams. The political fall-out is appalling. Sinn Fein is the second largest party in Northern Ireland and one-quarter of the electorate voted for it at the last election. If there is to be a reumption of devolved government in the province Sinn Fein should be part of it but it goes almost without saying that Ian Paisley's majority party will now have no difficulty in saying that they will not share power with friends of bank robbers. Sinn Fein's position is that nothing has changed and that despite some reforms the police establishment in Northern Ireland is still politically motivated. The best answer to that accusation would be for Chief Constable Orde to make charges and arrests.