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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 07:27 GMT
Reporters' log: Ireland row in Washington
Ted Kennedy with the McCartney sisters
Senator Kennedy met with Robert McCartney's grieving sisters
High-profile figures from Northern Ireland's political scene have taken their message to the US.

The sisters of murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney have visited the US in a bid to dispel any "romantic vision" that Americans may have of the IRA's struggle.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams has received a frosty response from politicians during his visit.

Kevin Connolly : Washington : 0200GMT

Later today, in what will be an extraordinarily powerful and symbolic moment, the McCartney sisters and Robert McCartney's partner, Bridgeen Hagans, will go to the White House reception.

There they will meet President George Bush and hand him a dossier explaining the circumstances surrounding Robert's killing.

That will be, if you like, the crowning moment of their campaign.

The McCartney sisters seem to have attracted the support of the entire Washington establishment, partly because of the dignity in their bereavement.

But it's also because they've succeeding in crystallising a lot of questions about what was going on in the peace process and about the role of armed republicanism now.

There were a lot of doubts which had begun to play in the minds of Irish Americans.

The McCartney sisters have succeeded in giving voice to some of those doubts, if you like, and refocusing the whole debate about why the peace process had lost momentum.

Mark Simpson : Washington : 2030GMT

I've just been speaking to Gerry Adams within 30 minutes of Ted Kennedy saying that the IRA was the albatross hanging around Gerry Adams' neck.

He wouldn't respond directly to the question but his whole language, his body language was somewhat defiant.

He knows he's a man under political pressure.

I don't know if he is in denial, but he is certainly showing no signs of anyone who is backing down from anything that he has said and done in recent times.

No doubt about it in political terms, this has not been a good week for Gerry Adams.

Matt Frei : Washington : 2000GMT

They have barely had enough time to grieve for their brother, and their first trip to the US involves meetings on Capitol Hill and in the Oval Office.

Senator Ted Kennedy, a giant in the Irish-American community, met with them instead of Gerry Adams.

After an hour behind closed doors, a press conference was held with some of the biggest names in both parties. And the call to Sinn Fein that underlines just how much the death of Robert McCartney is already changing a much bigger picture.

"No political party can also have an armed unit that continues the violence and criminality in today's world," Senator Kennedy said.

NI envoy Mitchell Reiss
US Northern Ireland envoy Mitchell Reiss has met with the sisters

Over at the West Wing at the White House it was left to the president to explain how the sister's crusade for justice has captured imaginations from Belfast to Washington.

"I'm looking forward to meeting these very brave souls, they've committed themselves to a peaceful solution, and hopefully their loved one will not have died in vain," Mr Bush said.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams said: "This is a process and you don't bring about the historic changes we're involved with overnight or at the flick of a switch."

Mark Simpson : Washington : 1930GMT

The statement by Senator Kennedy was not just symbolism, although the symbolism was huge. It was like a who's who of Irish America there standing literally shoulder to shoulder with the McCartney sisters.

But there was some real substance there. We have seen the actions by Ted Kennedy refusing to meet Gerry Adams.

Here we saw the words as well. Ted Kennedy saying that Sinn Fein is at an historic crossroads, and that the IRA has become an albatross around their neck.

In typical American-speak, he sent the message out loud and clear to Gerry Adams as to what he must do with the IRA. It is not a case of holding them but folding them.

Another point worth making is that people are talking about these McCartney sisters as being amateurs and na´ve.

But Catherine McCartney spoke there without notes staring down the barrel of the camera. She was eloquent as anyone else there in the room. No doubt about it. This family knows what they are doing. They are more than capable of holding their own.

People have been asking who are pulling their strings, but when you see that performance by Catherine McCartney there, you wonder if it is the family pulling their own strings.

Mark Devenport : Washington : 1715GMT

The US administration has decided to open its doors to the McCartney sisters, who are really symbols of everything they think is wrong with the republican approach to the peace process.

Mitchell Reiss for some time has been putting pressure on republicans to sort out their approach to policing and justice in Northern Ireland, to buy into the new police service and really for the IRA to go out of business.

There has been growing frustration on the part of Mitchell Reiss and the administration in general about the failure of the IRA, so far as they see it, to come up the mark there.

McCartney sisters
The McCartney sisters want to dispel romantic notions about the IRA

The sisters have campaigned on the basis their search for justice has being frustrated because of what they see as elements of the IRA operating as a criminal gang.

That is much in tune with the agendas of Washington, London and Dublin that the sisters are very much knocking on an open door.

The envoy has issued a general statement of support. But symbols can be important in Northern Ireland.

The fact that we're seeing Gerry Adams, and indeed the other political leaders on the outside and the sisters on the inside, is going to be a very potent message back at home.

The $64,000 question as far as the sisters are concerned is while they might be achieving, by any standards, incredible political results will they actually be able to achieve their campaign for justice?

That will really depend not on what happens here in Washington but attitudes on the ground in the Short Strand where getting people to provide evidence, getting witnesses to stand up in court is an uphill struggle.

Mark Simpson : Washington : 1630GMT

This is all about pressure for these sisters.

As we know, when their brother was killed almost two months ago they got local support from within their own hardline republican community in Belfast.

That then became national support in Northern Ireland. Then they got support from London.

Then they got support from Dublin. Now they have support from Washington and the most powerful politician in the world.

I think what they are hoping, desperately hoping, is that the combination of all this pressure will somehow persuade the killers of their brother in Belfast to give themselves up.

Is that likely to happen? Probably not. But the sisters are so desperate. They think it's worth a try.

Their message has got progressively more political throughout the last two months.

It started with an innocent cry for help.

"Our brother has been killed. Whoever it was has to give themselves in."

Now it has become a hardcore political message.

For instance, Catherine McCartney saying at the Baltimore-Washington Airport last night: "We're here to dispel myths about the Republican movement about the IRA.

"We're here to show them for what they really are."

That is a very political message rather than simply a family message.



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