Widespread outrage at IRA offer to kill men linked to Belfast slaying

Leaders across Britain and Ireland expressed outrage and disbelief Wednesday at the IRA's unprecedented public offer to kill four men including two of its own expelled members linked to a Belfast killing. The outlawed Irish Republican Army, which is supposed to be observing a 1997 cease-fire in support of Northern Ireland's peace process, has faced weeks of embarrassment over its members' role in killing a Catholic civilian, intimidating witnesses and destroying evidence. The case highlights the IRA's decades-old practice of seeking to impose its authority on the most hard-line Catholic parts of Northern Ireland. But the victim's family, who lives in an IRA power base in east Belfast, have waged a rare public campaign demanding that the IRA admit its involvement in killing Robert McCartney, 33, and encourage witnesses to give evidence to police. The McCartneys' stand has forced the IRA to make a string of admissions, culminating in Tuesday night's declaration it had offered to kill four people the IRA blames for the killing. The British and Irish prime ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, both denounced the IRA's offer as bizarre. "The IRA statement yesterday frankly defies any description. It was an extraordinary thing to say," Blair told the House of Commons in London. Blair said the IRA had revealed why both governments and every other political party in both parts of Ireland were demanding the IRA's full disarmament and disbandment. "We have made considerable progress in Northern Ireland," he said, referring to the decade-old peace process and the Good Friday peace pact of 1998. "But we now have an impasse because of the refusal of the IRA to give up violent activity of whatever sort." Detectives trying to bring charges against McCartney's killers announced Wednesday they have arrested a man on suspicion of involvement. Nobody has been charged yet. Police say 10 people previously arrested on suspicion of involvement have refused to make any statements while in custody and been released without charge. Northern Ireland's police commander, Chief Constable Hugh Orde, said he didn't need the IRA to tell his officers who killed McCartney. He just needed members of the public to feel safe enough to testify because the IRA traditionally kills anybody who informs on IRA activities to police. "We know the names of the suspects. Many people claim to be supplying those, but police work has identified those responsible," Orde said. "What the police need are witnesses willing to come forward ... and give evidence in court. That's the way the law works." Associated Press

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