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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

More from the peanut gallery.... and then some...

A follow-up to the observations made about the current political turmoil in Northern Ireland. The problems facing Sinn Fein in its efforts to maintain some political legitimacy after being associated with the criminal actions of the Provisional IRA have taken another critical turn -- or so it seems if you watch the major news outlets in the UK.

This time a problem has emerged from within a republican neighborhood where a barroom brawl led to the stabbing death of a popular local resident who was coming to the aid of a friend. The murder took place in the street outside the pub on 30 Jauary, and it is clear that there were witnesses and the assailants were well-known in both the community and to law enforcement officials.

But intimidation in the community as well as an anti-law-enforcement bias means no one will come forward as a witness, and thus no arrests can be made. It is also clear that one of the assailants is a leader in the Provisional IRA, and that Sinn Fein is unwilling to support community calls for bringing him and the others involved in justice.

What seems different in this case is that there is an open groundswell of support from within the community for prosecution and punishment. The day of the funeral there were large crowds following the procession to the church, and the parish priest was explicit in his call for witnesses to step forward.

Today (this was first written on the 14th) both the sister and fiancée of the dead resident made very public calls for witnesses and prosecution on both the BBC and Channel 4 news. This has become more than a local murder story because of his political implications for Sinn Fein. The reporters stress that this is not merely a movement within a Catholic neighborhood, but rather one emerging in a very strong Republican area. Sinn Féin's response has not been well-received, and therefore adds to the challenges building against its claim to political legitimacy.

It remains to see whether this is going to developed into a major turnabout in Northern Ireland nationalist politics, or it is merely just another storm that the well disciplined Sinn Fein machine will be able to withstand.

FOLLOW UP to the follow up: As I posted the preceeding on the 14th, Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams was responding to the pressure with a more explicit call for cooperation.... Very interesting times, indeed.

FOLLOW UP #2 to the follow up: On Wednesday the 16th, the IRA issued a statement that effectively said to the McCartney family and the community that they completely dissociate themselves from the events and individuals involved -- thus opening the doors to arrests and prosecution for the murder. But we will see if this results in people coming forward -- or if this IRA response reduces the pressure on them and Sinn Fein in the local republican community.
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