IRA Offers to Shoot Belfast Killers

The Irish Republican Army (search) said March 8 it offered to kill four people — including two expelled IRA members — involved in killing a Belfast man in its latest effort to defuse criticism over the case, which has cast a long shadow over Northern Ireland's peace process.

The victim's family rejected the offer during a five-hour meeting with an IRA representative, the outlawed group said in a statement.

The IRA, which initially denied any involvement in the Jan. 30 killing of Robert McCartney (search), a 33-year-old Catholic, has faced unrelenting criticism over the slaying and alleged intimidation of witnesses and destruction of evidence. Nobody has been charged, though the attack took place at a crowded pub and involved well-known local IRA figures.

The group said an internal inquiry determined that four people helped kill McCartney following a dispute at a pub. It called on all four, as well as all witnesses, to "give a full and honest account" — but it didn't specify to whom.

The IRA and its allied Sinn Fein (search) party reject the authority of police in the British province, which the British, Irish and U.S. governments say is a major obstacle to securing justice in the case.

The IRA said it told the McCartney family "in clear terms that the IRA was prepared to shoot the people directly involved in the killing of Robert McCartney." But the group said the family instead "wanted those individuals to give a full account of their actions in court."

The IRA two weeks ago expelled three members it said were responsible for the killing. Sinn Fein then suspended seven party members allegedly involved in the attack.

In another development, the U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland confirmed Tuesday that McCartney's five sisters, who have waged a rare public campaign against IRA intimidation in their hard-line Catholic neighborhood of Belfast, have been invited to the White House on St. Patrick's Day.

"I don't know how anybody can help but be impressed by them," the envoy, Mitchell Reiss said.

One of the slain man's sisters, Catherine McCartney, said she hoped President Bush could help.

"The case we'll put to Bush will be the same as it has been to everybody here in Ireland: that these men must be brought to justice, and he should use whatever influence he has to make that happen," she said.

She said despite recent calls from the IRA and Sinn Fein for witnesses to come forward, people remain too afraid.

At least 70 people saw the start of the fight inside the pub, which ended with McCartney suffering fatal slashes to his neck and stomach outside, she said, based on witnesses' confidential discussions with the family.

The sisters spoke shortly before the IRA statement and offered no reaction to it.

On Saturday, the McCartneys attended the annual conference of Sinn Fein, where party leader Gerry Adams repeated his call for intimidation to end and witnesses to come forward — although not necessarily to police. He criticized the killers again on Tuesday, hours before the IRA statement was released.

"It is clear that their refusal to do the right thing by the family of Robert McCartney is entirely motivated by self-interest," Adams said.

Other parties across Ireland said the latest IRA statement demonstrated that the group — which is observing a 1997 cease-fire but remains active on several fronts, including crime — is living in a parallel universe.

"It is absolute madness," said Reg Empey of the Ulster Unionists (search), a moderate Protestant party. He said the IRA's offer to kill more people to compensate the McCartney family "shows they have learned absolutely nothing."