Washington snub

Kennedy cancels his usual St. Patrick's Day meeting with Gerry Adams and, joining other senators, voices support for the McCartney family and impatience with Sinn Fein.

By Julian Borger
Published March 17, 2005 1:59PM (EST)

Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sinn Fein's most powerful friend in Washington, called on the Irish Republican Army to disband Wednesday, and accused it and Sinn Fein of covering up Robert McCartney's murder. He spoke after he met the sisters and partner of McCartney, whose murder outside a Belfast, Northern Ireland, pub in January has, as a result of the family's campaign, caused the almost total evaporation of support for Sinn Fein in Washington.

Kennedy had already canceled his traditional St. Patrick's Day meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. He said in a statement after meeting the sisters: "Their presence in Washington on this St. Patrick's Day sends a very powerful signal that it's time for the IRA to fully decommission, end all criminal activity and cease to exist as a paramilitary organization."

Standing beside the McCartneys, he told CNN: "There's no question Sinn Fein and the IRA are involved in a coverup there. Gerry Adams has to free himself." Modern Western democratic parties "do not, and should not, and cannot have private armies, and cannot be involved in criminality and violence."

He added: "I believe Gerry Adams wants to see the IRA disbanded. There's a time to hold 'em and a time to fold 'em, and we're overdue in terms of the disbandment of the IRA ... We would certainly hope that the leadership of Sinn Fein ... understands what an albatross the IRA is on them and for the cause of peace in Ireland."

Wednesday night Adams, who is also in Washington, criticized Kennedy's "unhelpful" focus on IRA disbandment when other parts of the Good Friday agreement also needed implementing, and said he had "set out very clearly Sinn Fein's efforts to create the conditions in which the IRA ceases to be." He added: "Sinn Fein is determined to resolve all of these difficult issues and to put the peace process back on track."

The McCartney sisters and Bridgeen Hagans, McCartney's partner, are due to meet George W. Bush Thursday at a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House, and present him with evidence on the murder and its subsequent coverup. On Wednesday the president said he was "looking forward to meeting these very brave souls. They've committed themselves to a peaceful solution, and out of this, hopefully, some good will come of the evil perpetuated on this family."

The McCartneys have had an electric effect on Washington, and Wednesday four of the Senate's most famous faces -- Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Christopher Dodd -- squeezed into a small room on Capitol Hill with dozens of journalists to voice their support for the family and their impatience with Sinn Fein.

Clinton said the peace process "cannot go forward unless there is a complete reckoning and justice in the murder of Robert McCartney." She called on anyone involved to come forward by Good Friday, and added that it was clear that it was no longer taboo in the Catholic community to talk to the police.

Catherine McCartney said she hoped support in Washington would have "results on the ground," forcing witnesses to come forward. "If Robert's murderers are brought to justice it would be a clear signal the country has found peace."

Kennedy made it clear his frustration with Sinn Fein had been rising before the murder. Irish-American politicians had been involved in talks in December "at the same time the IRA was planning a bank robbery," he said. "That sends a special message to many of us who had confidence in terms of the negotiating process." Kennedy, who had met with Adams in every St. Patrick's week for more than a decade, said he had asked him to sever ties with the IRA. "I have done [this] repeatedly over the past years and it has not been effective."

Julian Borger

Julian Borger is a correspondent for the Guardian.

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