The Provisional IRA has made it absolutely clear that those who killed Robert McCartney in a knife-fight outside a Belfast bar last month must be held to account.
In a lengthy statement on Tuesday, the IRA revealed that two of its members were among the group which got involved in a dispute which ended with Mr McCartney begin fatally wounded outside Magennis’s Bar in Belfast city centre.
The IRA has now expelled three members, and Sinn Féin has suspended seven following allegations that a group of republicans had been involved in the stabbing and beating.
So far, ten people have been arrested in connection with the killing.
In its statement, the IRA made clear that its investigation had identified those responsible for Mr McCartney’s death, including two IRA Volunteers. It revealed that it made an offer to take physical action against those responsible, in terms of a punishment shooting.
The IRA said this was rejected by the McCartney family in a meeting earlier this month.
The statement also revealed that the IRA gave direct assurances on their safety to three named individuals who the family alleged were the targets of intimidation.
The IRA also ordered those involved in the killing to give a full account of their actions.
Sinn Féin said that the statement was “a positive development and clear evidence of the wider republican desire” to see those responsible brought to justice.
However, even the fact that direct IRA action against the killers had been contemplated was enough to provoke a storm of criticism from the usual sources.
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern expressed “shock” and described the statement as “extraordinary”.
Police chief Hugh Orde also said he had “no doubt” the IRA meant it would kill those responsible for Mr McCartney’s death.
Sinn Féin Justice spokesman Gerry Kelly welcomed the IRA move as an effort to help the family -- but said it would be unacceptable for any punishment shooting to have been carried out.
Mr Kelly said the statement “should have removed any concerns witnesses might have still had about coming forward”.
In response, the McCartney family insisted that up to 12 IRA members were involved in a clean-up operation following the knife-fight, and that the matter should be brought before a court.
“It is now five weeks since Robert was murdered and no-one has come forward with substantial evidence,” the family said. “This must be due to ongoing intimidation and fear.
“Until they do we will continue to campaign for justice for Robert.”
Although the police and the McCartneys have accepted the death of their brother was not an IRA action, the matter has been depicted as such in the media.
The family’s pursuit of justice has been incorporated into an ongoing campaign to damage the (Provisional) Republican Movement, while their presence at the Sinn Féin annual conference last weekend depicted as a temporary aberration.
The family is to undertake a high-profile tour to the US this month, where the family is planning a visit to the White House and an appearance on ‘Larry King Live’.