Robert McCartney, 33, was killed in January outside a Belfast pub, his throat was slit and his torso cut open. Since then his sisters — Gemma, Paula, Donna, Catherine and Claire — have asked tough questions about his murder and say they have received silent responses from the 70 people, many of whom are in the republican movement, who were at the bar that night.
They brought their questions, and those of Robert’s partner and the mother of his two children, Bridgeen Hagan, to the White House and the halls of Congress and answered the many questions posed by the media who followed their every move here.
However, Sen. John McCain, in accepting an award at the American Ireland Fund dinner on Wednesday, offered the most provocative remarks of the week.
“Stealing from banks and slaying men in the streets to settle personal grievances are not the acts of freedom fighters,” McCain told the black-tie clad audience with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and the McCartney family in attendance.
“No one can honestly claim today that the IRA is anything better than an organized crime syndicate that steals and murders to serve its members’ personal interests.”
He called the IRA “cowards.”
Adams remained during the indictment of his party and even stuck around after the evening’s speeches were finished to sign an autograph and have his picture taken.
Afterward, McCain said the tough talk was necessary to advance the peace process.
“They had to be confronted,” he said.
It was an uncomfortable few days in Washington for Adams. First, Sen. Edward Kennedy abruptly rescinded an offer for the Sinn Fein leader to meet in his Senate office.
“The senator did not agonize over that decision; he wanted to send a clear message to the IRA and to Gerry Adams,” a Kennedy spokesperson said.
Enter the McCartney family.
Kennedy, along with Sens. Chris Dodd, Hillary Rodham Clinton and McCain, welcomed the women to Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Just a week before, Kennedy had chided President Bush for not inviting Sinn Fein and all of the North’s political parties to the White House this year.
Kennedy’s new advice for Sinn Fein and the IRA: “You gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold em.” He said the IRA was an albatross around Sinn Fein’s neck.
“It was wonderful,” said Catherine McCartney, recounting the meeting.
McCartney, a teacher who was just above Robert in birth order, said her family felt that Kennedy was sympathetic “because he knows what it means to lose a brother.”
Said kennedy: “Today isn’t just one meeting but is going to be a continuum, until we are able to see justice and those who were a part of this cruel and murderous act are brought to justice.”
Told that Robert McCartney’s mother had kept a picture of John F. Kennedy on her wall, Kennedy said, “Let’s call her,” and back inside the Russell Office building went the group to ring up a startled Mrs. McCartney in Belfast.
Asked by the press about Kennedy’s statements, Adams said while at another event across town that the senior senator from Massachusetts was “ill advised.”
Unions greet Adams
At a Friends of Sinn Fein breakfast on St. Patrick’s Day, the Sinn Fein president was in much more receptive company. Surrounded in a ballroom at the Capital Hilton by mostly labor union representatives (some of whom had been directed by their bosses to attend the breakfast and who identified the main speaker as the ‘Sin Fine’ guy), Adams was given a rousing welcome.
“Never mind the White House or Teddy’s house — we’d rather have you here in our house than any other goddamn place,” said Laborers International Union President Terence O’Sullivan in his introduction of Adams.
Adams admitted he was exhausted, but he still had a strong message.
He told the friendly crowd, “There is an attempt to criminalize our struggle.”
But he said some of his party’s current difficulties have been caused by elements from within his own nationalist community.
“We will not allow any rogue elements on the fringes of republicanism to criminalize our struggle,” he said.
“This morning’s meeting is representative of Irish-Americans who kept faith with the process who have kept faith with the aims and objectives of freedom and justice in Ireland,” he said with Rep. Peter King sharing the same dais.
“I have no doubt that we will be back into government with the DUP,” a resolute Adams said.
Bowl of shamrock
Just as the Friends of Sinn Fein breakfast concluded, the press was entering the White House gates for the traditional shamrock ceremony.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern performed the usual honors. Polite words were passed in the Roosevelt Room with Mrs. Bush standing alongside her husband.
At the reception afterward, the McCartney family had their own private meeting with Bush downstairs in the Diplomatic Receiving Room while the other guests mingled in the upstairs public rooms.
In the five minutes they shared with the president, the women conveyed the essence of their campaign to have those responsible for their brother’s murder brought to justice.
“There was a genuineness there about his concern,” said one official at the event, which was not open to the press.
The president mentioned the women during his remarks to a seated audience upstairs and asked that the women stand and be recognized.
Outside the White House gates, the women clearly believed they achieved their goals.
“George Bush had an understanding of our case and was 100 percent behind us on it,” Paula McCartney said. “He said that he believed the result of this could bring peace in Ireland.”
Catherine McCartney said the family’s visit to Washington had been a success if only to dispel some of the shamrock sentimentality some in the U.S. maintain of the IRA.
“People did not need us to explain our case, they knew what it was about. And if anyone has listened to what we have been saying, then at least that romantic view has been damaged if not dispelled,” she said.