The IRA offered to shoot the men involved in the murder of Robert McCartney, but his family refused the use of violence, republicans said Tuesday night. In a five-page statement, the Irish Republican Army gave its most detailed account yet of McCartney's brutal murder, saying four men were behind the killing, two of whom were its members.
The timing of the IRA's third detailed statement on the McCartney murder could hardly have been more significant, coming only hours after the White House confirmed that President Bush had invited McCartney's sisters to Washington to meet him on St. Patrick's Day. With Sinn Fein and the other Northern Ireland parties pointedly not invited to next week's celebration, the McCartneys' appearance is sure to cause extreme discomfort in the country where republicans have huge support and have traditionally raised funds.
As political figures lined up to criticize the IRA, the McCartney family said they rejected the IRA offer to shoot the murderers because that would have been seeking revenge, and they wanted to get those responsible into court. Gerard Quinn, a cousin of McCartney's, said: "I think the feeling is that to shoot and possibly kill these people is revenge and not justice. And revenge is not what the family is looking for."
That the IRA felt forced to make such a macabre offer shows the pressure it feels within its own communities, which it effectively polices, and where there has sometimes been tacit support of punishment beatings of local criminals.
McCartney was stabbed and beaten to death outside a Belfast bar on Jan. 30 after a row broke out over an allegedly rude gesture made at a woman. His family, who have launched an international campaign for justice, has blamed IRA members and said there were up to 70 witnesses in the bar but many were too frightened of republicans to give evidence.
The IRA Tuesday night stated that after "voluntary admissions by those involved," it knew four men were involved -- two were IRA volunteers and two were not -- and "the IRA knows the identity of all these men." The statement described how after a "melee" in the bar, a crowd spilled out onto the street and Robert McCartney and his friend Brendan Devine and two other men were chased. One attacker fetched a knife from the pub's kitchen. A second man used the knife to stab McCartney and his friend. A third man kicked and beat McCartney after he was stabbed. A fourth hit Devine and another of McCartney's friends across the face with a steel bar.
The IRA said: "The man who provided the knife also retrieved it from the scene and destroyed it."
The IRA said it had had two meetings with the McCartney family in the presence of an independent observer. In the first five-and-a-half-hour meeting last month, an IRA representative had "stated in clear terms that the IRA was prepared to shoot people directly involved in the killing of Robert McCartney." But the statement added: "The family made it clear that they did not want physical action taken against those involved. They stated that they wanted those individuals to give full account of their actions in court."
The IRA stopped short of declaring whether its offer to shoot those involved in the murder meant they were to be killed, or punished with a kneecapping or "six pack," where victims are shot in the ankles, knees and elbows. The IRA has already expelled three volunteers, and Sinn Fein has suspended seven members over the murder.
Although detectives have the names of the men suspected, they have failed to make any major breakthrough because the 10 men interviewed refused to answer questions. The IRA Tuesday night reiterated that all those involved should "go forward and give full and honest accounts of their actions." It said it had offered assurances that it would not take action against witnesses.
Northern Ireland's politicians condemned the IRA's admission that it was ready to shoot the suspects. Ulster Unionists described the offer as "sick and desperate," while the moderate nationalist SDLP said it was "obscene." The Democratic Unionist leader, Ian Paisley, urged the arrest of the Sinn Fein leadership. Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said his party was "unequivocally" against punishment beatings and shootings. The Northern Ireland secretary, Paul Murphy, said he was appalled by the IRA statement.