updated 8/31/2006 9:54:32 AM ET 2006-08-31T13:54:32

Police searched the official residence of Dublin's lord mayor Thursday after an outlawed Protestant group from Northern Ireland claimed to have planted a bomb inside the building 25 years ago.

The Ulster Volunteer Force said it had hidden the bomb inside a fire extinguisher in a roof space in the Mansion House in a failed attempt to kill leaders of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party, which held its annual party conference in the building that year.

The UVF said it passed information on the bomb to an Irish government contact earlier this week. Justice Minister Michael McDowell said he got the warning Tuesday and the information "was taken seriously immediately."

Police evacuated the lord mayor, Vincent Jackson, Wednesday night from the Mansion House, an 18th-century dwelling that has served as the mayor's home and office since 1715 and as a conference venue for decades.

Officers began searching the property Thursday morning in an operation that lasted several hours. An army bomb-disposal team was placed on standby.

British involvement?
Sinn Fein accused British agents of helping the UVF to plant bombs in Dublin, about 100 miles south of Belfast, at various politically sensitive moments in the Northern Ireland conflict. The alleged Mansion House bomb would have targeted Sinn Fein at the end of the 1981 prison hunger strikes, a threshold event that left 10 Irish republican inmates dead — and fueled the rise of Sinn Fein as a political force.

"Very few people believe that the UVF acting alone were capable of carrying out these types of attacks in Dublin," said Christy Burke, a Sinn Fein member of Dublin City Council. "If this story is proven, then it will become another page in the collusion story which still needs to be exposed."

The UVF killed more than 300 people, mostly Catholic civilians, in a self-described "war" against supporters of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement but has been largely observing a cease-fire since 1994.

The group claimed responsibility for the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the Republic of Ireland, when three no-warning car bombs detonated nearly simultaneously in Dublin, and a fourth an hour later in the border town of Monaghan, on May 17, 1974. The attacks killed 33 people and wounded more than 200; many of the victims were rush-hour commuters walking towards a major Dublin train station.

Britain has refused to cooperate with an Irish government-ordered investigation into claims that British agents were behind the Dublin-Monaghan attacks.

Britain last year withdrew official recognition from the UVF's truce after police blamed the group for killing Protestant rivals in a criminal feud and for directing Belfast riots. The group's commanders are currently mulling whether to disarm and disband in support of the Northern Ireland peace accord of 1998.

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