DUBLIN, Ireland – One of Sinn Fein's leading supporters in the U.S. Congress called Sunday for the Irish Republican Army to disband because it was standing in the way of peace in Northern Ireland.
In a major departure, Rep. Peter King (search), R-N.Y., who for more than two decades has been an ardent supporter of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement, accused the outlawed IRA of making a string of bad decisions that have fueled hostility within Irish-American circles.
His comments came as Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), D-Mass., said he would not meet with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams (search) on St. Patrick's Day — the first time the two have not met on the traditional Irish holiday since the Good Friday peace pact was signed seven years ago.
In a statement, Kennedy's spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner cited "the IRA's ongoing criminal activity and contempt for the rule of law" as the reason for Kennedy's decision.
Adams, head of the political party affiliated with the Irish Republican Army (search), traveled to the United States this weekend to seek support from Irish-American activists. His visit came amid outrage over IRA involvement in the killing of a Catholic man outside a pub in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The Bush administration didn't invite Adams to the White House on St. Patrick's Day, for the first time since 1995.
King said IRA activities were preventing a potential new power-sharing deal between Sinn Fein (search), which represents most Catholics in Northern Ireland, and the Democratic Unionists (search), the territory's major British Protestant party.
King said in an interview with RTE, Ireland's state radio, that Americans were finding it "hard to see what the justification is for the continued existence of the IRA."
Power-sharing was the key goal of Northern Ireland's Good Friday accord (search) of 1998. But a painstakingly negotiated deal fell apart in December when the IRA refused to renounce crime or to permit photos of its disarmament.
Since then the group has been accused of mounting the world's largest bank robbery, intimidating witnesses in the pub killing, and laundering millions annually in criminal proceeds. He said this criminal combination had demonstrated "the reality that it really is time for the IRA to go out of business."
King, who usually attends Sinn Fein's annual conferences and in the past offered praise for IRA "freedom fighters," skipped this month's conference in Dublin.
King called the Dec. 20 heist of Northern Bank in Belfast, when a well-coordinated gang stole currency worth $50 million after taking the families of two bank employees hostage, "totally inexcusable."
He said the IRA's subsequent implication in the Jan. 30 knife slaying of Robert McCartney (search) in Belfast caused much more disgust among rank-and-file American backers of Sinn Fein.
McCartney, 33, was attacked in a crowded pub and had his throat slit outside, but none of approximately 70 witnesses — including at least one Sinn Fein election candidate and several other party activists — has been willing to identify the attackers.
The victim's five sisters, in a rare rebellion within Sinn Fein's working-class Catholic grassroots, have campaigned publicly against intimidation of witnesses and the Sinn Fein-IRA movement's opposition to cooperation with the police.
Sinn Fein and the IRA, which initially denied any involvement, have suspended or expelled 10 members linked to the killing. The McCartney sisters have been invited to the White House for St. Patrick's Day.
And the IRA, in its latest attempt to defuse criticism of its members' involvement, announced last week it was willing to kill four people it considers responsible.
King said IRA leaders' offer to execute people — which caused widespread outrage in Britain and Ireland — demonstrated "how tone-deaf they are."