I picked up Katherine McCartney’s book Walls of Silence at the airport on Saturday, and began reading it on the plane back to England. Unusually for any book about the Northern Irish troubles it makes for gripping reading. That’s possibly because it outlines a problem that is more than modern history: indeed, the killing of her brother Robert by what was at the time an active unit in the IRA is indicative of a range of social order problems that have persisted long after the Troubles have largely dissipated. Much of the value in the book is its dense recapitulation of a complex story that took McCartney and her sisters days weeks and months to untangle. Much of those events were documented here on Slugger. But it contains some telling detail, not least the way Sinn Fein politicians were prepared to tell them one thing privately and then say something completely different in public.
She says that Gerry Kelly, who earned himself the nickname “I can’t answer that” amongst the sisters over the course of a year, told the sisters that direct sanctions could not be carried out by the IRA on the perpetrators because:
‘… a lot of republican families would be upset… these people have familikes; they don’t want them to leave the area; they shouldn’t be made victims of this’. I pointed out that the IRA was not prone to showing sympathy to families of those it chose to punish. After an hour long meeting, Kelly was left in no doubt as to what we wanted. ‘Ideally we would like everyone who looked at him wrong that night, but that is not going to happen. We want the fifteen,’ he was told.
Shortly afterwards, she quotes Kelly to ‘illustrate the inconsistency between Sinn Fein’s public face and that of its private one’:
I would like to see the family get justice in this, and the people who were involved in this brutal slaying should be rejected entirely by the community… and brought to justice.