The mainstream Dublin and London media, attending Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis in Dublin this weekend, had to abandon their prepared script at an early stage.
The McCartney family, lionised in the media as heroes in the battle to defeat Sinn Féin and the IRA, were given unequivocal support at the conference in their support for justice.
Adams took a difficult stance against the ‘hard men’ of the Short Strand in unionist east Belfast, where immediate force has long reigned. The staunchly nationalist area has been brutalised by its long and often isolated defence against unionist paramilitary and British state violence, and its hard-fought pecking order has been challenged by recent events.
Earlier, Mr Adams announced the suspension of seven Sinn Féin members who the McCartney family accused of being among those who were present.
He controversially urged those named to make statements to the Police Ombudmsan Nuala O’Loan, tantamount to making statements to the PSNI police itself. Republicans across the North, and particularly in the Short Strand, oppose the murderous and still unreformed British police force.
And, in a television interview later, he also warned that any members of Sinn Féin who were material witnesses to the killing and who failed to provide statements on the matter would be expelled from the party.
In his keynote address, Mr Adams demanded those involved in the stabbing admit their guilt in a court of law.
Blaming the attack on alcohol-fuelled machoism, he called for a halt to any intimidation preventing a full account of the killing.
The West Belfast MP said: “People who have information come forward, come and admit it. Be men, come forward and redeem yourselves.”
The McCartney family set expressionless during Mr Adams’ address, commenting later that they remained to see the result of events on the ground on the Short Strand.
But it was a challenging scene, which can only have baffled the public watching live on Irish television, and deep dismay for the anti-republican media.
More than one of Ireland’s Sunday newspapers were forced to revise their weekly front page attack on Sinn Féin as a result of the development.
The media’s pain was self-induced. McCartney’s sisters only decided to travel from Belfast to Dublin yesterday afternoon after a headline in the Belfast Telegraph accused them of “snubbing” an invite to the Sinn Féin ard fheis. The newspaper said they were preparing to travel to America for St Patrick’s Day instead.
“We had been invited to the ard fheis but we told them we were too knackered [exhausted],” said Gemma, one of the McCartney sisters. “Then this ‘snubbed’ headline came along. We felt we were getting all tied up in politics and it was turning into a real mess,” said McCartney.
The family welcomed the suspension of Sinn Féin members as a “belated step forward”.
Another sister of Belfast man Robert McCartney earlier said she would vote for Sinn Féin again if the row over her brother’s murder was resolved.
Catherine McCartney said she had voted Sinn Féin in the past because she believed “they were the ones who had the best interests of nationalists at heart”.
She said, “I voted for Sinn Féin because they were the ones who represented us best and, if anyone could get a united Ireland, they could.
“If it was all resolved properly, then I would vote for them again.”