Sunday, March 20, 2005




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March 20, 2005 -- WE are an ordinary working-class fam ily. For 100 years, our family has lived in Short Strand, a nationalist (Republican) neighborhood of Belfast.
All of us grew up amid the Troubles. Eleven years ago, our mother was hit over the head with a drummer's stick by an Orangeman on the day of a march — right in the hallway of our home — and received 13 stitches. We have known little else but violence and injustice — but our family and our community have withstood it by sticking together.

Today we are finding it very, very difficult to take that our brother Robert has been murdered and his killers — those who for decades have claimed to work in our name and in the name of our Catholic community — have not been brought to justice.

Robert was one of life's gentlemen. He was a very fair person, very generous, very hard-working and dedicated to Bridgeen and his two little boys.

On Jan. 30, he was in a bar having a quiet pint with a friend when they got into an argument with a group of men. But these weren't ordinary citizens. They were members of the IRA and Sinn Fein. They had just gotten back from Derry, where they had attended observances of the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. All day they had marched for justice. Then they all arrived at the bar, and they created their own Bloody Sunday.

Robert was beaten and stabbed and left bleeding to death on the street.

The IRA then conducted a well-organized clean-up operation inside the bar, removing the videotapes from the security cameras and instructing the 70 patrons to say nothing about what had happened.

When we met with the IRA recently, we asked them a question that had haunted us for weeks: Why did this happen? They told us there was no good reason.

We find that chilling.

Everyone knows the names of those responsible, and so does our family. But Americans should be appalled to know that Robert's murderers are still walking around, they are still going on with their daily lives — going for a pint and in and out of their bookies — because the police do not have evidence to bring charges against them.

Our lives are in bits. Every morning, Bridgeen has to walk past them when she takes her and Robert's 4-year-old son to school. And she returns home in tears — every day.

What we want to happen now is for the witnesses — or anyone who knows anything about what happened to Robert — to come forward to tell the police.

We want Sinn Fein and the IRA to do all they can to make sure that happens.

Sinn Fein and the IRA say they did order them to go forward. But those who did exercised their right to silence — they were ordered to go forward, but told to say nothing.

We believe this is nothing more than a stalling tactic in hopes that the whole story will peter out. We believe Sinn Fein are saying one thing to the journalists and the governments — telling them what they want to hear — and saying something else to its membership.

We feel a conspiracy of silence has developed, that some kind of pact was taken that night. We feel there is a lack of will, not ability.

There is no way in the wide world that the strongest guerrilla machine in the world cannot make 15 or 20 people step forward and talk.

This week we came to Washington hoping that someone would listen to our story. We felt that with America's power, hopefully we could advance our quest for justice.

We were absolutely overwhelmed with our reception. President Bush, the senators and congressmen we met with — even the taxi drivers — were well-informed about our case and were genuine and sincere and interested in knowing how they could help.

We got the same message from everyone. There was no ambiguity, no attempt to put this in a wider context: American leaders said they see Robert's case as a test or measurement of Sinn Fein's desire for true peace.

What we also tried to do on our trip to Washington is to dispel the romantic view of the IRA that has existed here — especially among Irish-Americans.

What Americans need to understand is that 10 years ago the IRA were freedom-fighters — but today it is a different story. We are no longer in a conflict, yet atrocities are still being performed — this time by elements of criminality.

What has happened to Robert at the hands of individual IRA members goes against everything Republicanism stands for. Republicanism is about justice, it's about equality and it's about freedom. That's what the past 30 years of the struggle is all about. That's why 10 hunger strikers starved themselves to death.

Those who murdered Robert have taken what was good about the movement and are now doing more damage than what the British government, the old Royal Ulster Constabulary or the (Protestant) loyalists could ever do.

We also find it troubling that many of the people in that bar that night belong to Sinn Fein. Some want to run for government office — yet they haven't felt the need to come forward and testify and do what their own leadership says they should do.

Sinn Fein claims they have done all they can do in this case. That is simply not acceptable.

We believe that the peace process cannot work without justice. For us, justice for Robert will be a sign that peace — true peace — is becoming a reality on the streets of Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland.

Right now, people in our community see Robert's case as a sign that peace isn't what's happening. It may be happening on the political level with people talking about talks and structures. But this is about a real person — a person who had qualities that the people who murdered him do not possess.

We believe President Bush and the other American politicians share our goal, that they want to see a result and believe that a resolution to Robert's murder will not only bring justice to our family, but also justice to Ireland.

In the meantime, our campaign for justice goes on. It started in the streets and has gone all the way to the White House. Now it has to go back to the streets again. There is no way on God's earth that we will forget this.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In their own words, this is the story of the six women, survivors of the murdered Robert McCartney, who have forced the world to take a fresh look at what the IRA has become.


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