Edward Kennedy yesterday urged the full dismantlement of the IRA, calling the paramilitary republican organisation "an albatross" around the neck of its political wing Sinn Fein.
Speaking after a meeting with the family of Robert McCartney, the Massachusetts Senator said that official America's current cold shoulder to Sinn Fein's leader Gerry Adams did not signify permanent ostracism. "But there's a time to hold 'em and a time to fold 'em," Mr Kennedy said. The IRA's disbandment was overdue, and "he [Gerry Adams] understands that."
Mr McCartney's sisters Catharine, Claire, Donna, Paula and Gemma as well as Bridgeen Hagans his fiancée and the mother of his two children had brought the case of their brother's murder before a group of leading senators, including Mr Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain, the Arizona Republican.
The session was part of a hastily arranged three-day schedule in Washington for the six women, culminating in a meeting with President George W Bush at the White House today. The purpose throughout is the same: to secure US support for their campaign to have Mr McCartney's killers brought to justice for the crime.
Earlier they made the same point at discussions with Mitchell Reiss, President Bush's special envoy for Northern Ireland. Americans, the McCartney women insist, must drop their "romantic" illusions about the IRA, and see it for what it is: "a criminal gang that murders people on the streets".
"We are going to bring that reality home to Americans who have political and financial influence in Ireland," Catherine McCartney said as she arrived in Washington on Tuesday.
The death of Mr McCartney, beaten and stabbed to death outside a Belfast pub on 30 January, has caused massive embarrassment and discomfort for Sinn Fein, the republican movement's political arm, and sparked the most serious crisis for the IRA in decades in the US, where some of its strongest support is to be found.
Mr Kennedy has refused to meet Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein during his weeklong trip to the US, while Pete King, the New York Congressman and another hitherto strong sympathiser of Sinn Fein/IRA on Capitol Hill, has also publicly called for the IRA to disband.
Today, moreover, it will be the McCartneys, and not Gerry Adams (or any other Northern Irish political party leader) who attends the annual St Patrick's Day reception at the White House. "We intend to honour those in civil society in Ireland," President Bush said at a White House press conference.
The Oval Office meeting with the McCartney sisters at which they plan to hand him a dossier on the crime would be a "very strong part of that statement," Mr Bush added. He described the women as "very brave souls," whose brother "hopefully will not have died in vain."
After the meeting with the two Senators, and a Northern Ireland Bureau lunch, the family was due to attend the annual gala dinner of the America/Ireland Fund (to which Mr Adams has been invited along with Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, and a host of other dignitaries.
One suspect in the killing is expected to be questioned shortly, and his solicitor is already understood to have contacted the police.
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