A backgrounder on the McCartney affair

We’ve been following this question for some time. Keenly aware that many of our new readers may be coming to the murder of Robert McCartney without any sense of its context, this is a compendium of the outflow from the killing as noted by Slugger’s various bloggers on the hoof.

Interestingly, nothing was reported on Slugger the day Bert McCartney was killed, or the day after. At the time Sinn Fein were denying that the IRA had anything to do with the largest bank robbery in UK/European history. His death at the time seemed part of an all too daily occurance on the streets. Trying to extrapolate anything too quickly on a blog like Slugger invariably means you get it wrong.

Time passed. The BBC’s cheif security correspondent had picked up rumbles of dissent within the IRA, but saw it primarily in the context of accusations of guilt for the bank robbery in the media.

The first direct reference was a nighttime vigil, at which his sister refused to be drawn on the politics of who had killed her brother. Is it heaven or hell within Sinn Fein? feelings running high in McCartney’s home area of Short Strand.

Brian Feeney, previously sympathetic towards the Sinn Fein project, announces that widespread Nationalist support for the IRA’s position, viz a viz retaining arms, is now over! There’s a motion in Dail Eireann backed by government and most opposition parties calling on Republicans to end criminality.

The International Monitoring Commission warns Sinn Fein:

The leadership and rank and file of Sinn Féin need to make the choice between continued association with and support for PIRA criminality and the path of an exclusively democratic political party.

It’s not until more than two weeks after the murder of their borther that the sisters start talking to the press (and here) accusing the IRA of protecting his killers. Then Mark Durkan accused both the IRA and Sinn Fein spokesmen of attempting to cover up and diffuse a police follow up action with an orchestrated riot. Speculation follows that the IRA had been intimidating witnesses.

The Belfast Telegraph welcomes Gerry Adams’ statement that the McCartney killing was an unpardonable crime. The IRA followed suite with a condemnation of the killers. Nearly three weeks in, they cede the right for the PSNI to investigate the killing.

About this time, Arthur Miller dies.

According to one Sunday journalist in Dublin, the IRA’s options are closing. And one senior Northern Irish nationalist warns Sinn Fein that it is playing dangerously on this and the bank robbery. The dead man’s aunt agrees.

One southern Nationalist notes how the McCartney killing may denote a degradation in politics towards the purely personal. We wonder where it’s all going to end? Editor and journalist Robin Livingstone argues that whatever the political damage, the party’s vote will hold.

In the middle of all this Hunter S Thompson dies.

Sinn Fein’s bona fides (long taken for granted in the larger part of the British and Irish press) begin to come come under scrutiny. The IRA announces it’s held its own court marshall. Eamonn McCann a civil rights veteran compares it to a longstanding Irish nationalist grievance. Martin Kettle is the first to make an early mention of the Adams Arafat comparison. The Irish Foreign minister asks Sinn Fein a choose between politics and armed struggle.

As far as what went on inside and outside Magennis’s Bar, the only testimony in the public domain is a detailed IRA statement. The family responded that the IRA were entitled to their own investigations but nothing would replace the transparency of court proceedings. By 10th March eleven men had been questioned, and the police had still not made any arrests. Despite Gerry Adams’s appeal to members of his party to help, the sisters continued to assert that local intimidation is taking place.

Despite all of this controversy, the party’s support appears to be solid. Though 44% of its core support want to see the IRA disband, and nearly 60% want it to disarm.

In the meantime (for all the media attention) as one of our commenters put it at the beginning: “all we have is a pub murder and a widow and orphans”. To that might be added five very determined sisters.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable has so far resisted all pressure to bring an early prosecution. In doing so Sinn Fein have accused him of playing politics with the McCartney case. However it pans out, this story is like to run a lot longer than one high profile visit to the US.