IRA offered to shoot killers of McCartney

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The Independent Online

The saga of the killing of the Belfast man Robert McCartney has taken another extraordinary turn with an IRA announcement that it was prepared to shoot those involved.

The saga of the killing of the Belfast man Robert McCartney has taken another extraordinary turn with an IRA announcement that it was prepared to shoot those involved.

The terrorist organisation said it had made an offer to Mr McCartney's relatives to shoot up to four people, but the family had made it clear it did not want "physical action".

The shocked political reaction to the revelation included descriptions of it as barbaric, sick, obscene and desperate.

The IRA statement did not specify whether the word "shoot" meant to murder or merely wound the four men, but according to a republican source the IRA was prepared to kill them.

Mr McCartney was stabbed in a Belfast back street on 30 January after a Sunday night brawl involving both IRA and Sinn Fein members in a city centre pub.

The family's campaign for justice has spurred both the IRA and Sinn Fein into actions to limit the damage being inflicted on them by the killing and its aftermath. But yesterday's offer was seen as another sign that the IRA is in turmoil and is making a series of ill-advised steps. The idea of killing - or even wounding - four men, three of them IRA members, is seen as remarkable. Such a bloodbath would answer the accusation that the IRA is involved in a cover-up to protect its people. But the notion of an organisation, which has been on a declared ceasefire since 1997, confirming that it had offered to carry out such crimes in such a public way was received with something close to disbelief.

Sinn Fein and the IRA have been struggling desperately to get away from damaging associations with criminality, including the McCartney killing, the Belfast bank robbery and a large-scale money-laundering operation. Yet the IRA last night voluntarily provided irrefutable evidence of a violent mindset, just months after it had said it was prepared to go into "a new mode" which was taken as meaning an end to violence.

One of its nationalist political opponents said last night: "Gerry Adams could not have approved of this. It's mind-boggling, it's political stupidity - these guys must have lost their minds."

Sinn Fein has repeatedly said it supports the McCartney family, who have laid down the goal that the killers should be brought before a court.

Party president Gerry Adams has suspended seven members of his party, said to have been in the bar where the McCartney incident began. He has - controversially in republican terms - taken unprecedented steps in forwarding their names to the Police Ombudsman, who has passed them on to police. This act has led to the weekend appearance of Belfast graffiti labelling Mr Adams a "tout," or informer.

The Rev Ian Paisley, DUP leader, called for the leaders of Sinn Fein to be arrested, declaring: "The offer to shoot those responsible for the murder of Robert McCartney confirms again that terrorism is the only stock-in-trade of Sinn Fein/IRA."

Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said: "There is no place for the sort of arbitrary justice and murder that is being suggested here."

The nationalist MP Eddie McGrady described it as obscene, saying: "This appalling proposal is an extremely dangerous slide into anarchy and is a threat to the entire community of Northern Ireland."

The Sinn Fein justice spokesman, Gerry Kelly, described the statement as useful to the family, but added that had the shooting been carried out it would have been "unacceptable". He added: "Sinn Fein's position is very clear on punishments, it's clear they shouldn't happen."

The IRA, unusually for such a secretive organisation, said it had given the McCartney family detailed information on the killing, including the name of a man who it said had committed the stabbing. They also named two men responsible for providing the knife, using the knife, destroying the knife, destroying a CCTV tape and burning clothes.

The IRA said thatit had given assurances to three key witnesses that they had nothing to fear.

EXTRACTS FROM THE STATEMENT

"Representatives of Oglaigh na hEireann [IRA] met with Bridgeen Hagans, the partner of Robert McCartney [both pictured] and with his sisters before our statement of 25 February ... the IRA representatives gave the family a detailed account of our investigation.

Our investigation found that after the initial mêlée in Magennis's Bar ... Robert McCartney, Brendan Devine and two other men were pursued into Market Street.

Four men were involved in the attacks. A fifth person was at the scene. One man was responsible for providing the knife used in the stabbing of Robert McCartney and Brendan Devine. He got the knife from the kitchen of Magennis's Bar. Another man stabbed Robert McCartney and Brendan Devine. A third man kicked and beat Robert McCartney after he had been stabbed. A fourth man hit a friend of Robert McCartney and Brendan Devine across the face with a steel bar.

The man who provided the knife retrieved it and destroyed it. The same man also took the CCTV tape from the bar, after threatening a member of staff, and destroyed it. He also burnt clothes. Reports have alleged that up to 12 IRA Volunteers were involved in the events in Market Street. Our investigation found this is not so. Of the four people directly involved in the attacks, two were IRA Volunteers. The other two were not.

The IRA representatives detailed the outcome of the internal disciplinary proceedings and stated the IRA was prepared to shoot the people directly involved in the killing of Robert McCartney.

The McCartney family ... made clear they did not want physical action taken ... They stated they wanted those individuals to give a full account of their actions in court. Second, they raised concerns about the intimidation of witnesses.

We have urged witnesses to come forward. The only interest the IRA has ... is to see truth and justice achieved. We continue to press all of those involved in events around the killing ... to come forward."

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