Mary Dundon, Political Reporter, Washington
US SENATOR Ted Kennedy threw down the gauntlet to Sinn Féin yesterday to finally break its links with the IRA and criminality and stop having a "private army."
Following a meeting with the family of murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney, Mr Kennedy said their presence in Washington sent a powerful signal that it was time for the IRA to end all criminal activity and cease to exist.
"No political party in the democratic west could or should have a private army and should not be involved in criminality. This is a golden opportunity for Sinn Féin to indeed once and for all separate themselves from that type of support in terms of the IRA and criminality," Mr Kennedy said.
Once a powerful ally of Sinn Féin in Washington, Mr Kennedy cancelled a scheduled meeting with its leader Gerry Adams yesterday on the eve of St Patrick’s Day because of the ongoing IRA criminality.
The McCartney family got major support for their campaign for justice from a wide group of very influential US senators on Capitol Hill yesterday, including Senator Kennedy and Senator Hillary Clinton. In a statement, the Senate Friends of Ireland Executive Committee said that Sinn Féin is now at a cross roads. "It cannot be a fully functioning democratic party with the albatross of the IRA around its neck. Sinn Féin has a unique opportunity to take the gun and criminality out of politics once and for all," the statement added.
President George W Bush also voiced his support for the McCartney family.
During a routine press briefing, Mr Bush said the McCartney family were "brave" souls and it was time for all Northern political parties to commit to the end of criminality.
Meanwhile the McCartney family said they will not rest in peace until the Robert’s murderers are brought to justice. They will ask Mr Bush today for his help in their campaign.
The five McCartney sisters and Robert’s partner, Bridgeen Hagans, will be special guests of the president at the White House St Patrick’s Day ceremony where Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will present Mr Bush with the traditional bowl of Shamrock.
Mr Bush’s special envoy to the North, Mitchell Reiss, also had a meeting with Gerry Adams late yesterday, the outcome of which was not known at the time of going to press.
Mr Adams is excluded from the White House ceremony this year for the first time since 1995.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in a keynote address to the American Ireland Fund dinner last night said he fully appreciated the sense of impatience and frustration many Irish-Americans feel about the failure to complete the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
"Believe me I have often shared your frustration," Mr Ahern said, adding that the brutal killing of Robert McCartney and the Northern bank robbery had made it more difficult.