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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 March, 2005, 01:31 GMT
IRA shooting offer 'unsurprising'
Mark Simpson
By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland correspondent

Few people in Belfast were surprised to hear that the IRA's answer to recent problems was to reach for its guns.

Robert McCartney
Robert McCartney, 33, was killed after a row in a bar

After all, that is what the IRA knows best.

In spite of the peace process, it remains a terrorist organisation with thousands of weapons and, when pushed, it is not afraid to use them.

So it was no great shock to find out how the leadership responded when faced with the embarrassment of IRA "volunteers" being involved in the murder of a Sinn Fein supporter, Robert McCartney.

Instead of politics, the IRA preferred pistols.

Rather than calling on the killers to go to the police, it preferred "justice" from a firing squad.

The big surprise was that the IRA made this position public.

By putting out a statement saying it had been "prepared to shoot the people directly involved in the killing of Robert McCartney", the IRA invited criticism. And so it came.

Unionist and nationalist politicians lined up to condemn the IRA, as did the British and Irish governments. The American administration is likely to join in soon, at next week's political events in Washington to mark St Patrick's Day.

IRA motives

So why did the IRA admit its readiness to shoot people?

Bizarre though it may seem, it felt such a statement would help the McCartney family.

It wanted to send out a message to those involved in Mr McCartney's murder that the IRA really meant it when it called on the killers to hand themselves in.

Robert McCartney's family have behaved impeccably throughout their ordeal
Mark, London

There have been suspicions that the IRA had previously made the appeal, but did not really mean it. However, by saying it was prepared to shoot people, the IRA was saying that not only was it serious, it was deadly serious.

Needless to say, it wasn't what the McCartney family wanted. They're not interested in a kangaroo court, they want the murder gang put in front of a real judge.

Peace process

It all leaves the battered and bruised peace process even more damaged. But some believe that something positive could come out of this dark and bloody episode.

The issue of IRA criminality was going to have to be tackled at some stage - and the events of the past few months have simply brought it to a head sooner than had been expected.

Recent developments have shone a bright light on the activities of the IRA.

Gerry Adams flanked by Robert McCartney's sisters
Sinn Fein called for information on Mr McCartney's murderers

First there were allegations that it stole 26.5m from the Northern Bank in Belfast, then claims it was involved in a huge money-laundering scam in the Irish Republic, and now the controversy - and barbarity - surrounding the murder of a young Belfast Catholic.

It all means that in any new deal in Northern Ireland, a political fudge will not be accepted.

Any proposed agreement which leaves the future role of the IRA somewhat ambiguous will not get past the first draft.

Before unionists agree to share power again with Sinn Fein, the IRA is going to have to demonstrate - by word and action - that it has totally ended its reliance on the gun.

If that happens, the next political deal in Northern Ireland will be one which sticks. But it's a big "if". At the moment, no-one is even talking about the possibility of a deal.

All the talk is about the IRA's threat to use its guns again. It may not have shot the killers of Robert McCartney, but politically, it has shot itself in the foot.


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