No talks until IRA "criminal activity" dealt with

Friday, March 18, 2005 Northern Ireland secretary Paul Murphy said there is "no hope" of political progress on peace talks until all IRA "criminal activity" has been dealt with.

Mr Murphy praised the courage of the McCartney sisters' campaign for justice for those responsible in the murder of their brother Robert McCartney. Their brother was stabbed and kicked to death after an altercation in a bar in the center of Belfast. The gang which killed him included at least three members of the IRA.

Mr Murphy's comments came during a visit the sisters made to Washington. They met President Bush who is said to have offered support and encouragement for their campaign. Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, has pointedly not been invited to the White House.

Belfast's self-governing assembly is the product of a peace deal made in 1998. It collapsed two years ago, leaving the British province to be run directly from London ever since. Attempts to restore the assembly have met numerous obstacles in the intervening years, mostly centered on the presence and actions of the IRA.

In recent weeks the IRA has been linked not only to the murder of Robert McCartney, but also to the widely publicised theft from the Northern Bank of £26 million in December.

"As far as the political process is concerned, to all intents and purposes we are not talking about any future negotiations or discussions until the issue about criminal activity on the part of the IRA is addressed," Mr Murphy has said. Until that happens, there "wasn't any hope at all" of progress to restore the institutions of government to Northern Ireland. He added that the McCartney sisters "remarkable campaign" had "personalised the issue of criminal activity" and given a face to individuals suffering from brutality and savagery.

Gerry Adams said the case has become steeped in politics, and the only people that could not be accused of political motivation were the McCartney sisters themselves.

Reported separately, the controversial 'detention-without-trial orders', brought in last week under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, could be used against members of the IRA. The government has refused to rule out the possibility of control orders being used on members of the group. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has said that the orders had been working well in their first few days although there had been some teething problems.