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March 19, 2005

The Cory Collusion Inquiry Reports

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Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Mar 2005

News about Ireland & the Irish

HR 03/19/05 Hearing: The Cory Collusion Inquiry Reports –V
IN 03/19/05
After THE Day, Where Goes Irish Peace-Process? -Fr McManus
IN 03/19/05
America Loved Them- What Awaits McCartneys In Belfast?
TO 03/20/05 Opin:
Raw Truth Hunger Strike Fights Its Way Past Myths
TO 03/20/05 Opin:
Adams Brought To Book By Lyrics Of Kenny Rogers
SH 03/20/05
Ed Moloney: The Death Of The IRA


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Hearing: N Ireland Human Rights: The Cory Collusion Inquiry Reports

Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on
Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations

Christopher H. Smith, Chairman
Committee Home Page
Subcommittee Members
Subcommittee Jurisdiction
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The listings that contain archived media files will need RealPlayer® to view.

109th Congress, 1st Session
2:00 p.m., 2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Hearing: Northern Ireland Human Rights: Update on The Cory Collusion Inquiry Reports
Hearing Notice, The Honorable Christopher H. Smith, The Honorable Mitchell Reiss, Mrs. Geraldine Finucane, Ms. Elisa Massimino, Ms. Jane Winter, Ms. Maggie Beirne

Witness transcripts are available by clicking the links below.

Mitchell B. Reiss, Special Envoy of the President and the Secretary of State for the Northern Ireland Peace Process U.S. Department of State

Geraldine Finucane, wife of Patrick Finucane:

Elisa Massimino, Washington Director, Human Rights First:

Ms. Jane Winter, Director, British Irish Rights Watch:

Maggie Beirne, Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ):


From the IAUC:


Please take the time to thank Congressman Christopher Smith and Congressman Donald Payne for highlighting this effort in Congress.

Congressman Christopher Smith
2373 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-7768

Congressman Donald Payne
2209 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax (202) 225-4160

Also, send a note of appreciation to Congresswoman Watson for attending the hearing and expressing concern to the Finucane Family:

Congresswoman Diane Watson
125 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-0533
Fax: 202-225-2422


After St. Patrick’s Day, Where Goes The Irish Peace-Process?

By Father Sean Mc Manus, President, Irish National Caucus.
March 18, 2005

Now that the St. Patrick’s Day anti-Sinn Fein feeding frenzy is over, where do things go from here?

Without doubt, the enemies of Sinn Fein and the enemies of the Irish peace-process have had a grand few days, and have landed some blows. And some politicians, being politicians, ran for the tall grass, while Senator John Mc Cain disgraced himself in a Paisley-like outburst of bigotry and ignorance. What gives Mc Cain -- who participated in the totally unjust and indefensible Vietnam War, in which hundreds of innocent Vietnamese civilians were slaughtered -- the right to hypocritically lecture the Irish on violence?

But what really is the end result? Has Sinn Fein been damaged?

Anyone who knows anything about the history of Irish-American nationalism will know that it’s when the Irish Cause is under the most severe attack that Irish-American rally the strongest. They “ get their Irish up” when they see the rich and the powerful, both in Ireland and the United States, through unjust and deceitful means attempt to demonize the man who has become the very symbol of the Irish Cause, Gerry Adams.

Obstructed But Not Damaged

So has Sinn Fein been seriously damaged? No, I do not believe they have. They have been obstructed. And they certainly need to overcome those obstructions if they are to keep advancing the Irish peace-process. One of the ironies of all of this is that it has become clearer and clearer to all Americans that it is The Irish Republican Movement that has kept the peace-process alive and that without them there would never have been a peace-process in the first place -- surely not the outcome their enemies had hoped for. Irish Republicans are now seen not just as one of many players, but as the standard- bearers of the peace-process… if they fail, the peace-process fails… if they do not move first, nobody moves … if Gerry Adams gives up on the peace-process all is lost. It’s an awesome burden, and maybe an unfair one, but that’s the way it actually is --and, indeed, has been since the John Hume and Adams launched the peace-process.

The One Indispensable Leader

So in all their attacks, in all their shameful attempts to demonize Gerry Adams, the enemies of the peace-process have in actual fact helped to establish Adams as the one indispensable leader. That is why they now must try to destroy the peace-process because they know the most direct way to destroy Sinn Fein is to destroy Sinn Fein’s greatest asset, and greatest accomplishment, the Irish peace-process.

It was, again unfairly, said about Caesar’s wife “ she must not only be chaste but seen to be chaste”. So too Irish Republicans must go out of their way to show they are not involved in any wrongdoing. (Obviously Sinn Fein cannot be responsible for the action of every Republican -- no more than Teddy Kennedy can be responsible for the action of every Democrat in Massachusetts). And they must move in a major way to remove the obstructions placed on them by others -- and they cannot wait for others to do that. That would be like waiting for Minister of Justice Michael Mc Dowell to do something to help Sinn Fein increase their vote in the Irish Republic.

What Must Be Done

Sinn Fein must somehow get things back to where they were before Christmas when the IRA were, quite extraordinarily, “ prepared to speedily resolve the issue of arms, by Christmas if possible, and to invite two independent witnesses, from the Protestant and Catholic churches, to testify to this. In the context of a comprehensive agreement we were also prepared to move into a new mode and to instruct our Volunteers that there could be no involvement whatsoever in activities which might endanger that agreement”.

Somehow Sinn Fein must do this -- and they must not give a veto on their actions to Ian Paisley, Michael McDowell or John Mc Cain. They must act as free agents whose top priority is to advance the peace-process.

And Sinn Fein must somehow come to terms with the policing issue, which I knew was always going to be the most difficult of all. How can Gerry Adams look the family of Pat Finucane in the eye and tell them that all the bad old days are truly over, that all bad attitudes and bad individuals, bad laws and bad systems, have been removed and that a young Finucane could with honor and pride now join the police and protect the rights of all the people in Northern Ireland?

And yet if Sinn Fein remains aloof from the police, there will never be an acceptable police service in Northern Ireland, because the police will never fully change until Sinn Fein forces that change by its active participation.

I don’t know how Gerry Adams does all that has to be done. But I do know there is not another man or woman on the island of Ireland who can do it. Instead of being demonized Adams should be prayed for and wished Godspeed in his work to bring justice, equality, nonviolence and peace to Ireland. And in saying this I know I echo the opinion of the vast majority of Irish-Americans.

Fr. Sean Mc Manus
Irish National Caucus


America Loved Them- What Awaits McCartneys In Belfast?

The McCartney sisters got all the best invitations and headlines on their trip to Washington, but as they return home to a divided city they must be asking themselves: what have we really achieved?

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington and David McKittrick in Belfast

20 March 2005

They have met the most powerful man in the world and told him their story. But as the sisters and partner of the murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney travel home today from America, they will be wondering what exactly their high-profile visit to the White House has actually achieved.

True, the US President can now put six human faces to a problem he has largely ignored so far. Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein and a regular visitor to the White House on St Patrick's Day, did not get an invitation this time. And the IRA has fewer supporters in the States than it did a week ago - before the articulate sisters told their story and challenged misty-eyed Irish Americans to give up their support for armed struggle.

"The sisters have turned the republican movement inside out," said one observer back home in Belfast. Both Sinn Fein and the IRA have urged their members to reveal who killed Robert McCartney in a bar there eight weeks ago. But so far nobody has, at least publicly. For all their talking, the McCartney women are no closer to what they really want: convictions for the men who killed their brother.

"The response we have been getting from the people we have seen has been good," said Catherine McCartney, a teacher. "But what matters to us is what happens on the ground back home. It is ironic that we have had to leave our country to try and get justice."

The sisters are now trying to decide whether one or more of them should stand for the local elections expected in Belfast in May. Standing may keep their campaign from running out of steam - but it could also lead them into a party political quagmire.

Almost every participant in the peace process is sympathetic to their aims, but they also have their own agendas. London, Dublin, Washington and Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party all hope that republicans will continue to feel undiminished heat from the McCartneys.

Yet, underneath all the furore, the central, underlying assumption of the peace process remains unaltered: that it will continue with republican participation, and that Sinn Fein and Mr Paisley will, sooner or later, get back to the table to hammer out agreement on a new Belfast administration.

To the surprise of many, all the recent turmoil over IRA involvement in the murder and the £26m robbery of the Northern Bank has not caused Mr Paisley to slam the door on a future deal. He and Sinn Fein are likely to be the big Northern Ireland winners in the looming Westminster election. The clearest sign of this came when George Bush, while refusing to meet Mr Adams, refrained from stern condemnation of Sinn Fein.

Mr Paisley and the three governments hope to have the IRA agree to renounce all criminality, preferably before the next round of negotiations begins. The ideal would be a declaration from the IRA that it is disbanding. The high-level strategy is therefore to use the McCartney campaign to batter republicans into making extensive concessions.

The bizarre IRA offer to shoot republicans involved in the murder was followed last week by another error from Martin McGuinness. He publicly warned the family against being manipulated by others for party political purposes - a statement some interpreted as a veiled threat, which he denied. The republican counter-attack has taken the form of hints that the sisters are being manipulated, together with allegations that the police investigation is "driven by political considerations rather than justice".

Unless IRA members actually come forward with confessions, most believe it will be extremely difficult to bring charges in the case. Although IRA and Sinn Fein personnel have been interviewed by police they have exercised their right to silence, staring at the wall and saying nothing.

By doing so, the key suspects are disobeying IRA orders, which is always a risky business. But giving a full and honest account would probably land them behind bars for years, perhaps for murder.

In Washington last Thursday, the five sisters and fiancée of Robert McCartney followed their meeting with the President by attending a St Patrick's Day party at the home of Ireland's ambassador to the US, Noel Fahey.

By the time they showed up at the sumptuous house in north-west Washington, they had endured several days of being whisked around the capital. There had been meetings on Capitol Hill with senators and congressmen, a gala dinner and then, finally, the meeting in the Oval Office with President Bush. That they had the energy even to show up for the traditional knees-up, where a band played Irish music and the Guinness flowed, was a testament to the determination that has fuelled their campaign.

Mr Bush, they said, had listened carefully to what they had to say and had said he would help them. Other people they had met in Washington had likewise expressed an interest in what they were doing.

Senator John McCain, who calls himself Scots Irish, declared: "Anyone, Irish, American or British who desires and works for the success of peace, freedom and justice must denounce, in the strongest possible terms, not only the cowards who murdered Robert McCartney but the IRA itself and any political organisation that would associate with them."

Gerry Adams was getting the cold shoulder while the sisters were being fêted by his old friends Senators Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. Officially, he was not being shunned. The White House said that Mr Adams - warned not to do any fund-raising during his visit at the risk of having his visa revoked - had not been asked to meet President Bush because no politicians were being invited as a result of the stalled peace process. But the unofficial message was a public rebuke from the Irish American establishment. Mr Adams had to settle for a meeting with Mitchell Reiss, the White House envoy to Northern Ireland.

Mr Adams was, however, well received in most of the places he went during his week-long visit. At a rally of the transport workers' union in New York on Monday, he was loudly cheered. At a breakfast meeting for Friends of Sinn Fein in Washington, he was warmly welcomed. It also emerged that he had met the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, for almost an hour on Wednesday to discuss the peace process.

But Mr Adams did little to hide his displeasure. On St Patrick's Day he snarled at reporters who asked him if he was being snubbed, and claimed that the McCartneys were being used: "Let there be no doubt that factions of the media, as well as political opponents of Sinn Fein, have very opportunistically exploited this man's killing."

The six women reject this. Paula McCartney said claims that they were being used by others was nothing more than a "distraction". Their late brother was the only one "behind the scenes". "People have tried to manipulate us but we have been able to identify them," she said. Their appeal to the people of the Short Strand, the Catholic enclave of Belfast where two of the women live, and to the republican community depends on such feisty independence. No high-level political achievement will mean much to the sisters, however, unless they can locate and put the people who killed their brother behind bars.


Comment: Liam Clarke: Raw Truth Of Hunger Strike Fights Its Way Past Myths

Anybody who wants to understand the history of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein should read Blanketmen, Richard O’Rawe’s searingly honest account of the events surrounding the 1981 hunger strike.

O’Rawe gives us something new in modern republican history: a participant’s account that attempts to face the facts without romanticising them.

Up to now we have had mostly anodyne accounts, in which every dead IRA man was good at Gaelic games, fearless on active service and loved his mother. Every decision taken by Gerry Adams, the infallible helmsman of the movement and founder of the peace process, was not only correct but also designed to save lives and bring about a ceasefire.

We have also been treated to cod biographies in which Adams never joined the IRA, and a book of lives of IRA volunteers in which well-known informers are revered for their dedication. In this alternative universe, the IRA never committed a crime and even when it made mistakes it was forced into them by the Brits. As Goethe noted, “patriotism ruins history”.

O’Rawe was a public relations officer for IRA prisoners and later for Sinn Fein, so it should not surprise him that the full weight of the republican propaganda machine was deployed to drown the simple truth that many of the later hunger strikers wanted to end the protest around the time when Joe McDonnell, the fifth of the 10 prisoners to die, reached the critical stage.

I know the feeling. I still remember the call from Danny Morrison to my home in North Belfast nearly 10 years ago. He was appealing to me not to write a book about the hunger strikes. He implored me not to slander the memory of the dead or bring distress to their families.

I had just conducted an interview with Geraldine Scheiss, the girlfriend of Kieran Doherty, the eighth hunger striker to die. She told me that he wanted to call off the strike and that, in his final two hours of life, asked her to get tablets to save him from death. Tom Toner, the prison chaplain, confirmed that shortly before Doherty died Scheiss had come out of his room to say he was asking for tablets “for his body”. Doherty’s mother wouldn’t agree until her husband Alfie got back to the jail. Scheiss tried unsuccessfully to get the tablets herself. By the time Doherty’s father returned to the prison, his son had died.

It was clear to me that Kieran Doherty was unhappy about the hunger strike and had expressed his doubts about continuing. He had told Mary McDermott, the mother of Sean McDermott, a close IRA comrade, that “there was a lot more to it than the five demands”. It was clear from her and from other prisoners that Paddy Quinn, another hunger striker who was taken off by his mother when he became unconscious, had spoken in favour of ending the strike.

I sent a copy of my taped interview with Scheiss to her for comment, mentioning in a covering letter that one or two passages were not clear. I got a solicitor’s letter back denying she had said any of it and saying the tape must all have been faulty. As a result I put in only what was independently confirmed.

Sinn Fein had stymied me at every turn in writing the book. I was invited for interviews and kept sitting for hours in a room with prisoners’ wives and relatives waiting for the Long Kesh minibus, only to be told that nobody was available to speak to me. Eventually two liaison people were appointed — Morrison later told me that the only purpose was to see what I was up to — but they proved quite helpful.

One was the former hunger striker Pat “Beag” McGeown, a republican of tremendous dedication, haunted by survivor’s guilt because his wife had taken him off the hunger strike when so many others had died. “You can’t really be sorry to be alive, but yes it does trouble me,” he said.

He hinted at things that would be confirmed and fleshed out in O’Rawe’s account. McGeown told me he had wanted the strike to end and that “a certain number of hunger strikers had arrived at the same conclusion and were saying, ‘Look, possibly the whole thing should be reviewed’.”

It was also clear to me that, although the IRA leadership had not wanted the hunger strike to start in the first place, once Bobby Sands was elected to Westminster things had changed. They wanted it to continue until Owen Carron, a Sinn Fein member who stood as “proxy prisoner” could be elected to the seat left vacant by Sands’s death. At the time there was

a republican policy of not contesting Westminster or Dail elections and this was the leadership’s way round it. As Adams said in a 1985 Bobby Sands memorial lecture: “The hunger strikes, at great cost to our H-Block martyrs and their families, smashed criminalisation and led to the electoral strategy, plus the revamping of the IRA.”

O’Rawe puts it more bluntly. The hunger strikers, he said, may have been “cannon fodder” and six of them may have died just to get Sinn Fein’s political project under way.

The hunger strike was prolonged despite an offer to the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which would have been guaranteed by the Catholic church’s hierarchy, that met many of the prisoners’ demands. Substantially the same offer was repeated through an MI6 officer with whom Adams was liaising, and was accepted by the prison leadership as the best deal available. When the hunger strike did eventually end, the same offer was at length implemented and greeted as a victory by republicans.

O’Rawe reveals that McGeown had been warned to keep quiet about his doubts when Adams visited the hunger strikers after many of their families asked him to end the strike. Adams made it clear the visit was a formality, saying that he had come because he “felt duty-bound to satisfy the clergymen and all those who were pressurising their families”.

Most tellingly of all he was accompanied by Carron, who was dressed in what the prisoners referred to as his “election suit”. The implied message was that they would be letting the movement down if they did not hold out until polling was over. Doherty did not attend because he was judged too ill. Instead Adams visited him in a private room and came out saying that “Big Doc” was determined to continue.

The price was deaths in the prison and on the streets, as hunger strike rioting continued. An honest debate on Sinn Fein’s entry to politics was avoided, and Adams’ strategy was advanced.

Some may say it was worth it. Ending the hunger strike after three or four deaths on the basis of the offer to the ICJP, and the parallel offer through MI6, would have set the Sinn Fein political project back. The Catholic church and the SDLP, who were to the fore in the ICJP, would have shared the credit, with little going the way of Sinn Fein.

Adams would then have had to argue openly for a political strategy. He might have faced a split.

Of course it is the duty of military leaders to take such decisions. Generals send men to their deaths after weighing the lives of soldiers against their overall strategic objectives.

It can be argued that Adams and the republican leadership made the right choice but it is an argument that they never had the courage to make. Certainly not to the families of the hunger strikers.


Comment: Sue Denham: Gerry Adams Is Brought To Book By The Lyrics Of Kenny Rogers

Gerry Adams has no less than a dozen books to his name, including a collection of short stories, several political tracts and at least four memoirs. Despite this Sinn Fein sea of prose, Brandon/Mount Eagle Publications is planning to publish one more offering from the Bearded One.

The Kerry publisher has bought The New Ireland: A Vision for the Future, a political manifesto in which Adams “outlines the challenge of transforming Irish society through a vision of self-determination and sovereignty, inclusiveness and equality”.

Doesn’t sound like a rival to the next Harry Potter, but the tome will be published in November to mark the centenary of Sinn Fein. Given how well that centenary is going so far, Adams’s 13th book could well be the highlight.

Meanwhile, Senator Ted Kennedy springing the lyrics of a Kenny Rogers song in order to admonish Adams was the highlight of Sue’s St Patrick’s Day. Apart from “knowing when to hold ‘em, and knowing when to fold ‘em”, there are other messages for Sinn Fein in Rogers’s The Gambler. “If you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right,” being one.

So, Yoda of Star Wars fame actually an Irishman was

Empire magazine had some St Patrick’s Day fun by publishing an internet list of the top 10 Irish movie moments, the best Oirish accents and best Oirish dialogue in Hollywood movies, and the best Irish actors (they went for Richard Harris; we’d have gone for Daniel Day-Lewis).

Our favourite section was Greatest Irish Characters (which included Dudley Smith, the police chief in LA Confidential, and John McClane in Die Hard) followed by Characters That Should Have Been Irish. This featured Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribean and Yoda in Star Wars — “he’s short, green, lives in a bog and talks in incomprehensible sentences.

He even has a shillelagh — it couldn’t be more blatant”.


Ed Moloney: The Death Of The IRA

For 10 years St Patrick’s Day meant a party date at the White House for Gerry Adams; until last week. Ed Moloney examines why America has turned its back on Sinn Fein and the IRA, and the potentially fatal consequences of this change

GERRY Adams and Sinn Fein will never be allowed to raise money again in the United States unless and until the IRA goes out of business, completely disarms and abandons criminality so that a final peace deal can be agreed by Northern Ireland’s nationalist and unionist parties.

That is the unequivocal message coming out of Washington after an extraordinary St Patrick’s Day week which saw the American political establishment and media embrace the five sisters and partner of murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney, while Adams was shunned and sidelined.

For the first time in 10 years, Adams was not a guest at the White House’s party for St Patrick’s Day, an event that President Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, had elevated to one of Washington’s major social events. But that snub was not the real measure of American anger at the Sinn Fein leader. That came where it would damage Sinn Fein and Adams most – in their wallets.

In public though, the spotlight was on the White House party. The irony of last week’s events is that the festivities were probably not going happen anyway, but their cancellation became the public symbol of Adams’s new isolation in the United States. The truth was that the White House was exasperated with all of Northern Ireland’s bickering politicians and a proposal to cancel the festivities for everyone had been under consideration from early January to signal the administration’s vexation with the breakdown of last December’s peace negotiations.

This move was not specifically directed at Adams. but in the angry aftermath of the Northern Bank raid and amid a growing conviction that the IRA was responsible, it soon became a stick with which to beat Sinn Fein. Briefly, the White House considered going ahead with the party after all, inviting all the politicians except Sinn Fein, but was dissuaded by the Irish government on the grounds that singling Adams out for punishment would bestow victimhood on Sinn Fein, which it might exploit to its advantage. As things turned out, the decision to cancel the party was largely viewed anyway as an expression of White House displeasure.

The anger at Adams and Sinn Fein in the White House was palpable and for a very specific reason. George Bush had been persuaded to make a personal phone call to Adams during last December’s peace negotiations, urging him to accept a deal based on a proposal put together by his own ambassador to the Irish peace process, Mitchell Reiss.

The deal would have seen Northern Ireland’s fire-and-brimstone preacher-politician, the Reverend Ian Paisley share power with Sinn Fein if the IRA would allow photographs to be taken of its weapons being decommissioned. But not only did Adams and the IRA reject what was in effect a Bush initiative, the Americans were enraged to learn the assertion made by the Irish government that while Bush was on the phone to the Sinn Fein leader, the IRA Army Council had already approved the forthcoming Northern Bank robbery.

Suddenly cancelling one party in the White House didn’t seem an adequate response to what US officials saw as a gesture of contempt for Bush. But hitting Sinn Fein where it hurt, in the pocket, might fit the bill.

An indication that this is exactly what Bush had in mind surfaced in a short statement from Sinn Fein in early March outlining Adams’s itinerary in the US during the St Patrick’s Day week. In it, the party admitted that just a few days earlier, it had decided to turn Adams’s fundraising events into plain speaking engagements.

A spokesperson explained: “The party leadership was concerned that there was a likelihood that fundraising would become a contentious issue for the US government, and a distraction, therefore, from the necessary work of rebuilding the peace process.” Translated, this was an admission that Sinn Fein had reason to believe that if Adams applied for a fundraising visa it would be turned down, and that rather than be humiliated, discretion was judged the better part of valour.

US officials will not admit on the record that this is what happened, although it seems the only logical explanation. But there’s no doubt that a ban on Sinn Fein fundraising, unspoken yet resolute, is now in place. “We haven’t taken a formal decision in the government, let alone announced it, but given where we are with that party and the [Northern Ireland] peace process, it’s a fair assumption that this is what is happening,” admitted one source close to recent discussions in the White House.

The fundraising ban will hit Sinn Fein hard. Since President Bill Clinton allowed Adams to raise money in the US in 1995, American dollars have flooded into party coffers in Ireland. Each year Adams would host up to two $10,000-a-table dinners at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue district attended by wealthy Irish-American business men and professionals. He and other luminaries such as Martin McGuinness would tour the country wining, dining and accepting cheques from new-found supporters, eager to be seen and photographed in public with them.

The Plaza dinners each regularly brought in $500,000, and altogether Sinn Fein could raise between $3 million and $5m annually from America, a total of up to $50m in the last decade. Income on this scale freed Sinn Fein from financial dependence on the IRA, fuelled the party’s electoral growth in both parts of Ireland and helped put the party on the cusp of government in Dublin and Belfast.

Things began to change when Bush succeeded Clinton in the White House. Clinton had an interest in Irish politics, was sympathetic to the nationalist side and knew that involvement in the peace process would be popular with Irish Democratic voters. Bush had no interest at all, was more likely to empathise with the unionists and if he ever tried to woo Irish Catholic voters, he would choose gay marriage or abortion before Northern Ireland as the issues.

Bush downgraded the Irish peace process when he took office. Responsibility for the issue was moved from the White House and the National Security Council to the State Department and now it is run by a former official who works part-time from a nearby university, liaising with the State Department when necessary. Bush continued Clinton’s practice of hosting the St Patrick’s Day party but he rarely showed much enthusiasm for it. Bush didn’t like Ireland and had no interest in it – and it showed. Talking him out of hosting the annual festivities would not have been the most taxing of tasks.

But the Bush administration also had reason to be wary and suspicious of Sinn Fein. A few weeks before 9/11, in August 2001, three suspected IRA members were arrested in Colombia on suspicion of sharing weapons technology with the FARC guerrilla movement in return for cocaine-generated cash. The IRA operation is thought to have been run out of adjoining Venezuela whose leader, Hugo Chavez, clashes regularly with Bush. The three are now on the run, possibly hiding in Venezuela. The episode also brought to light the fact that Cuba accords Sinn Fein official diplomatic status in Havana.

Interfering in America’s back yard and aiding the enemies of America’s friends in the region raised hackles in Washington and tempers did not improve when Sinn Fein took a leading role in a noisy and popular campaign to stop US military aircraft from landing and refuelling at Shannon airport in Ireland when the Iraq war broke out.

The Bush White House was not only predisposed to keep Sinn Fein at arms length but for some time US policy-makers had watched Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern’s handling of the peace process with a mixture of astonishment and despair. In particular, the reluctance to punish Sinn Fein for the IRA’s many transgressions, the refusal of the IRA to fully leave violence behind – or the governments to make it – and an unwillingness in Dublin and London to confront the IRA’s growing criminality worried them. In a time of terrorist threats, such behaviour smacked too much of appeasement.

It has been no surprise then to observers that in its totality the American response to the Northern Bank robbery and the killing of Robert McCartney has been tougher than that shown by the British and Irish governments. An incident in Washington last week summed up the difference: while Adams was under the hammer from American politicians, Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern took time out to meet him, as if to give comfort and shelter from the blows falling all around him.

What has surprised observers has been the strength of political hostility from mainstream Irish-Americans towards Adams and Sinn Fein. Part of this can be explained by tougher American attitudes to terrorism in the wake of the attack on the twin towers and the ongoing threat of Islamic violence. But it is also to do with a feeling that perhaps Adams and his colleagues sold them a false bill of goods when they persuaded Americans to sign up to the peace process, that they were conned into believing that Sinn Fein and the IRA wanted peace when all they wanted was power. The Northern Bank raid and the McCartney murder may have combined to tip them over the edge.

Nobody symbolised that suspicion more than the grand old man of Irish-American politics, Ted Kennedy, who abruptly cancelled a meeting with Adams and instead squired the McCartney sisters around Washington. Later he co-hosted a press conference for them with senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain in attendance, three of the heaviest weights in Congress. At a dinner in Washington that night, McCain rounded on Sinn Fein and the IRA, accusing them of cowardice, selfishness and hypocrisy. As soon as he finished speaking, Adams rose to his feet and stormed out of the door. The incident graphically illustrated Adams’s changed status in official America.

None of those politicians could ever be accused of running ahead of popular opinion and so their attacks on Adams and his colleagues were an intriguing barometer of congressional sentiment.

But the most revealing and significant assault came from congressman Peter King, a Republican from Long Island who has been a close political ally of Sinn Fein and a good personal friend of Adams since the hunger strikes of 1981, despite their very different political backgrounds. In the past, King was Sinn Fein’s most dependable and loyal supporter in America, whose public statements always faithfully reflected the party line in Ireland. He once even described the IRA as “a legitimate guerrilla army”.

His St Patrick’s Day statement was, this year, distinctly off-message. The IRA, he declared, should disband “without delay”. He continued: “The IRA pulled off a $50 million bank robbery – followed by the brutal murder of an innocent Catholic by IRA men in a Belfast bar-room brawl. This has caused me and other concerned Irish-Americans to conclude that the IRA must disband without delay. The war is over – there is a new Ireland, north and south. It is only when the IRA accepts this reality that we will truly be able to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.”

The visit to Washington by the five McCartney sisters and their dead brother’s fiancée has put the disbandment of the IRA firmly on the political agenda, as a precondition to reviving the peace process. The women gave a human face, full of courage, love and strength, to the demand that the IRA has outlived whatever usefulness it had and must go.

But as they make their weary and jet-lagged way back to Belfast and the realities of everyday life, they must know that this was the sum of their efforts. Getting the IRA to leave the field is one thing; getting justice for their murdered brother and putting his killers into jail is another. Travelling to Washington may have done much to advance the former but not even George Bush can make their brother’s killers confess to their crime.

Ed Moloney is the author of A Secret History Of The IRA, Penguin, £9.99


A Short History Of The Provisional IRA And Sinn Fein

December 1969
The Provisional IRA emerges from the violence of the late 1960s as the Catholic community in Northern Ireland demand radical changes to the unionist-dominated state. The Official IRA had long been dormant and when violence erupts, many of its supporters accused it of cowardice.

August 1971
Internment without trial is introduced. Three days of violence leads to 23 deaths. It provides the IRA with an opportunity to win support and recruit from the Catholic community.

January 1972
The killing of 13 civilians by the British Army in Derry on Bloody Sunday gives a recruitment boost to the Provisional IRA. The Provos call a temporary ceasefire to see what the government will offer. Secretary of State William Whitelaw rejects their demands for Britain to withdraw.

January 1975
Protestant clergy persuade the Provisionals to extend their Christmas ceasefire. The truce lasts seven months. From the IRA’s point of view it is a disaster, with the government using the hiatus to increase its intelligence.

March 1980
Republican inmates in the Maze Prison campaign against the loss of “special status”. This escalates into hunger strikes. In April 1981, Bobby Sands is elected to Westminster but becomes the first of 10 protesters to die.

May 1983
Gerry Adams is elected MP for West Belfast and becomes president of Sinn Fein. A year later an IRA bomb narrowly misses killing Margaret Thatcher in Brighton.

November 1987
An IRA bomb explodes on Remembrance Day in Enniskillen, killing 11 people.

August 1994
The IRA call a “complete cessation of military operations.” Loyalist groups follow suit.

February 1996
The IRA announces ceasefire is over and explodes bombs in London and Manchester.

April 1998
Good Friday Agreement is signed. The people of Northern Ireland vote yes to the peace settlement in a referendum.

December 2004
Attempts to secure full decommissioning of IRA weapons fails. Some £26.5m is stolen from Belfast’s Northern Bank.

January 2005
The IRA is under increasing pressure to disband following the murder of Robert McCartney by some of its members and being widely blamed for the robbery.

Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Mar 2005
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