Irish Republican News · March 18, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Killing used as political football

By Danny Morrison (for Daily Ireland)

Despite the best intentions of the McCartney family and their appeals for their brother Robert’s murder not to be used as a political football, that is exactly what has happened. They went to extraordinary -- and personally difficult -- lengths to defuse it as a political issue with which to bash republicans by attending the Sinn Fein Ard-Fheis, where the party president, Gerry Adams, identified with their desire for justice and encouraged all republicans to support the family.

He asked witnesses not to feel intimidated and to give evidence through an agency or lawyer if they felt unable to approach the PSNI. The PSNI itself acknowledged there was a serious lack of trust. Adams personally gave a lead by passing to the Police Ombudsman’s office the names of seven Sinn Fein members who had been suspended from the party and who had been in Magennis’s bar on the night in question.

There is no doubt that Robert McCartney’s killing has become a political football and is being exploited by the opponents and critics of republicans to attack Sinn Fein and the IRA. Moreover, this is counterproductive to the family’s objective of securing evidence for a conviction. There are growing signs of resentment -- best exemplified by graffiti in the Short Strand accusing Gerry Adams of being an informer and murmurs about the wisdom of two of the McCartney sisters intimating that they might stand for election on the issue.

Women interviewed for a BBC vox pop said they had heard Adams’ appeal to witnesses but, had they personally seen anything, they would still not come forward because they didn’t trust the PSNI. Others are asking why the eyewitness statement of the man who was with Robert McCartney had not been used by the PSNI to secure arrests or at least led to suspects facing an identity parade.

The original accusation that the paucity of evidence was down to intimidation or a closing of ranks has had to be reviewed in light of IRA and Sinn Fein statements. There is only so much that the IRA and Sinn Fein can do. The IRA has dismissed three of its volunteers, allegedly physically involved in the incident. When it was discovered at the weekend that a former Sinn Fein election candidate, who had also been in Magennis’s bar when the fight started, had only recently filed a statement with her solicitor, one of the McCartney sisters -- wrongly, in my opinion -- criticised Sinn Fein in general.

Should the IRA have arrested the suspects at gunpoint and dropped them off at the nearest barracks? And if, in the barracks, the suspects had made no incriminating statements, how could it then be fair to blame the republican movement? When the IRA made public that it had given the family the offer of having the alleged killers of Robert shot, there was widespread condemnation. The statement was a throwback to earlier times, to a culture we want to leave behind us. But the statement did help focus on the opportunism of IRA critics who will not specify what it is the IRA should do that it has not done.

All nationalists want a responsible and accountable police service. During the conflict and because of a policing vacuum, the IRA was pressed to act against local criminals exploiting the situation. However, some of them, when they were eventually arrested by the RUC, became involved in a sinister and rewarding relationship with the force. They enjoyed either immunity from prosecution or were charged with more minor offences, were acquitted or given suspended sentences, in return for becoming small-time informers, reporting on the movements of republican activists.

Often they were allowed to continue with their activities on the basis that drug pushing, burgling and joy-riding were dispiriting for the nationalist community and creating the sentiment for a return to policing at any, or a lower, price than that to which the community was entitled. The RUC also appreciated that crime inside nationalist areas forced the IRA into administering a rough and imperfect form of summary justice that politically alienated the extended families of those punished by the IRA and distracted the IRA from its armed struggle against the British Crown forces.

At the time of the signing of the Belfast agreement, the controversial issue of policing could not be resolved and was referred to a commission. Chris Patten eventually presented his report but it was watered down during the legislative process. The old Special Branch moved into the PSNI uninhibited and without having to swear any allegiance to human rights -- unlike elected representatives, who have to forswear the use of political violence.

More recently, it has been announced that, in two years, the PSNI is to come under the control of MI5. The SDLP, the Catholic hierarchy and The Irish News -- representing between them the old nationalist establishment in the North -- prematurely bought into the original template of the PSNI and have been attempting to justify their position ever since. In the interim, Sinn Fein’s overtaking of the SDLP has shown that nationalists endorse the republican analysis.

Not surprisingly, the SDLP has been to the fore in politicising the McCartney family’s search for justice and in demonising Sinn Fein generally, just as the DUP has encouraged one of the sisters to stand against Sinn Fein in the local election.

I understand the McCartney family’s call for those with evidence to go directly to the PSNI or make a statement to the ombudsman. This case has received such publicity and scrutiny -- although prejudicial speculation could affect the rights of any accused -- that the PSNI and the courts would have to behave in a fair and transparent way.

Throughout the conflict, republicans often had to be pragmatic in cases such as rape, child abuse, insurance claims, traffic accidents etc and co-operate directly or through a solicitor with the authorities and the RUC. So there are precedents for co-operating.

The McCartney family simply want justice for their murdered brother. Others will take advantage of them for their own political ends, just as the British government and unionists did with the Peace People in the 1970s. Everything that the McCartneys do in their campaign for justice must be aimed at securing the truth and securing justice by way of convicting those who took Robert’s life. The IRA and Sinn Fein have been willing but are unable to force his cowardly killers to own up.

If the McCartneys believe that standing for election will make his killers confess, then that is fine. If they believe that it will make his killers confess if the family criticise Sinn Fein and the IRA each time they try to help, then that is fine. If they believe that meeting George Bush -- who is responsible for slaughtering thousands of innocent civilians -- will make his killers confess, then that too is fine.

Many, however, who are both sympathetic to the McCartney cause and to the cause of Irish republicanism doubt how such an approach will bring Robert’s killers to justice.

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