The killers of Belfast father-of-two Robert McCartney were today branded cowards by Gerry Adams for failing to face up to what they had done.
In a stinging rebuke for those who carried out the January 30 murder outside a Belfast city centre bar, Mr Adams warned he would not let the issue go “until those who have sullied the republican cause are made to account for their actions”.
The Sinn Féin president told republicans at a 1916 Easter Rising commemoration in Derry how Sinn Féin handled the McCartney family’s demands for justice was crucial.
Following eight weeks of constant criticism of the IRA and Sinn Féin’s handling of the case, Mr Adams acknowledged many republicans and nationalists felt the murder was “being cynically exploited to undermine republicanism”.
But he added: “What annoys me the most is not the criticism from the two governments, our political opponents, or those sections of the media who are clearly delighted to have a go at us. We are used to that and we can take it. What else do we expect? If those who fear the growth of Irish republicanism are given an opportunity to undermine it they will take that chance.
“What annoys me the most is that a small group of individuals are not prepared to face up to their responsibilities. Instead these cowardly individuals will allow an avalanche of propaganda aimed at criminalising republicanism. So let me be clear - I am not letting this issue go.”
Mr McCartney, a 30-year-old forklift driver, was stabbed and beaten outside a Belfast city centre bar and a friend, Brendan Devine, was also seriously wounded following a row with republicans in Magennis’s bar.
The victim’s five sisters and partner have accused IRA members of carrying out the attack and other people of taking part in a clean up and cover up operation afterwards.
However despite the explusion by the IRA of three of its members and repeated calls from Gerry Adams for witnesses to come forward, police investigating the brutal attack have encountered a wall of silence - even though 70 people were in the bar when the row broke out.
The McCartney sisters’ campaign for justice took them this month to Washington where they met US President George W Bush, Senators Edward Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and John McCain.
The family is also planning to go to the European Parliament next month.
Sinn Féin has suspended seven members while the investigation into Mr McCartney’s murder takes place.
However the party’s refusal to recognise Northern Ireland’s police service as legitimate has meant the Sinn Féin leadership has had to advise witnesses to pass statements onto the North’s Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan through their solicitors.
The Ombudsman’s office has offered to help the police investigation.
The McCartneys, however, believe it is not good enough for witnesses to issue statements through their solicitors, arguing they should go directly either to the police or the Ombudsman’s team who have the proper investigative skills to establish what happened.
Mr Adams said today it was the goal of Sinn Féin to “bring about the closure and truth and justice the McCartney family are campaigning for and deserve”.
The people responsible for the killing, he said, had so far refused to “obey instructions from the IRA, and appeals from republican leaders. They have refused to behave in a brave and courageous way.”
And he added that no matter how people felt about how the McCartney family was conducting its campaign on behalf of their brother, the five sisters and his partner, Bridgeen Hagans had the right to truth and justice.
Mr Adams added: “We as a party have a duty not to allow republicanism to be diminished in any way. How we deal with this killing is very important. It is about us. It is about how we see ourselves.”