- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

President Bush today will commemorate St. Patrick’s Day by snubbing Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and embracing the family of Robert McCartney, a Belfast man fatally stabbed by members of the Irish Republican Army.

The move, marking the first time that Mr. Adams has not been invited to the White House for the Irish holiday in at least seven years, is intended to send a strong message to the IRA and its political arm, Sinn Fein.

“The United States is not happy with the peace process and [Sinn Fein’s] rejection of a comprehensive peace accord,” one senior Bush administration official said on the condition of anonymity. “The thuggery and the paramilitary activity must cease.”

In a press conference yesterday, the president said the message should be clear.

“We wanted to make sure that we honored those in civil society in Ireland who are contributing positively to the peace process,” he said. “It’s very important that people understand that the parties must renounce violence. … And I’m looking forward to meeting these very brave souls. They’ve committed themselves to a peaceful solution.”

Mr. Bush said, “The Good Friday agreement laid out the way forward for peace in Northern Ireland, and this administration and our government strongly supports those steps.”

The 1998 agreement signed in Belfast laid out a peace plan and called for a permanent cease-fire, with both the IRA and Protestant militias giving up their paramilitary weapons.

But since then, the IRA has breached the pact several times and is suspected of continued involvement in criminal activity and low-level sectarian violence.

The issue came to a head in January when Mr. McCartney, a 33-year-old forklift driver, was beaten and fatally stabbed outside a Belfast pub. In the days and weeks afterward, 72 witnesses refused to talk amid reports that the IRA had issued death threats for anyone who spoke up. Police investigating the slaying were attacked with stones.

The McCartney killing followed a December bank robbery, the largest in Ireland’s history, which was blamed on the IRA.

Five days after Mr. McCartney’s murder, more than 1,000 people attended a vigil in his honor, and the Roman Catholic man’s five sisters began speaking out.

The women — along with Mr. McCartney’s fiancee, Bridgeen Hagans — are in Washington to attend today’s ceremony at the White House, and yesterday met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“We hope that this does produce results on the ground for our family,” said Catherine McCartney, standing beside her sisters Gemma, Claire, Paula and Donna.

Gemma McCartney said the purpose of the visit was to “keep the pressure on” until the men responsible for killing their brother are charged and convicted.

Several U.S. senators offered their support to the five sisters.

“No political party can also have an armed unit that continues the violence and criminality in today’s world,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and part of a growing number of Irish-American leaders who have rebuked the IRA over the killing.

Mr. Kennedy, who also refused to meet this week with Mr. Adams, was joined yesterday by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat; Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican. Mr. Kennedy said the senators plan to offer a resolution in support of the sisters.

Mrs. Clinton said the peace process in Northern Ireland “cannot go forward unless there is a complete reckoning with the demand for justice in the murder of Robert McCartney.”

Mr. Dodd said the “remarkable sisters … have taken a tragic event and given us some glimmer of hope that maybe we can end this violence once and for all that has gripped Northern Ireland.”

Mr. McCain was more blunt, saying the senators assured the family members “that we will do everything in our power to see that these murderers are brought to justice” and warning against anyone discouraging the sisters from speaking out.

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