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ireland, irish, ulster, ireland, irish, ulster, Sinn Féin, Irish America

A Tale of Two Murders

(by Suzanne Breen, the Village)

They were the same age. They both voted Sinn Féin and lived in working-class nationalist areas of Belfast. One drove a van, the other a fork-lift truck. Both were brutally killed by the IRA.

Everybody knows about Robert McCartney but who remembers Andy Kearney? There was no huge outcry when he was shot dead seven years ago.

No-one has ever been brought to justice for his killing which, in some ways, was even worse than Robert McCartney's because it was planned and authorised.

Several men arrested and questioned by detectives were later released without charge. Sinn Féin hasn't been put under pressure to bring those responsible to justice.

The IRA didn't even bother with token expulsions; the killers remain within their ranks. Indeed, the man who ordered the shooting - a high-profile North Belfast Provisional - is a leading suspect for the Northern Bank robbery.

There was little local co-operation with the police investigation into the killing but nobody really noticed. There were no rallies nor vigils for Andy Kearney. His name and picture didn't dominate the media for weeks on end. There was a round of political condemnation at the time, and then the politicians quickly forgot.

Although seven years apart, the details of the Kearney and McCartney killings are so similar that they show that thuggishness and brutality within IRA ranks, even post-peace process, is nothing new.

Like Robert McCartney, Andy Kearney had clashed with a leading Provisional before his death. Shortly before he was shot, he was in a pub on the Falls Road when the North Belfast IRA commander threatened the son of a woman who was in his company.

Kearney intervened. Tensions rose. The two men went outside and in the subsequent fight, Kearney knocked out the IRA man out. Publicly humiliated, he plotted his revenge.

A fortnight later, eight IRA men burst into the Fianna Flats in the New Lodge as Kearney watched TV, his two-week old daughter sleeping on his chest.

They overpowered him with chloroform and tied his hands behind him with plastic strips. They smashed the telephone and dragged him out to the stairwell. They shot him three times. They disabled the lift to delay help. Kearney's girlfriend found him lying there in a pool of blood.

Their neighbours heard the shots and her screams but were too frightened to open their doors. She had to run down 16 flights of stairs, carrying the baby, to ring an ambulance.

It was too late. Kearney bled to death. Like the McCartney sisters, his mother Maureen began a campaign to bring her son's killers to justice. Her words were every bit as emotive: "The IRA dragged him from his home wearing nothing but his football shorts.

"They left him to die in a filthy, urine-soaked lift with the blood gushing out of him. Nobody treats my child like that and gets away with it. I didn't rear him for that," she said.

Like the Short Strand family, she found her own traditional prejudices challenged. "I was always very critical of the RUC but they would have treated Andrew far more humanely than the IRA did," she said.

Just as with the McCartney's, opposing Sinn Féin didn't come naturally to Maureen Kearney. She was a lifelong republican. She burned a candle in the window every Christmas in support of IRA prisoners.

She met IRA representatives to discuss her son's killing and rejected their explanations. She also met Gerry Adams

Within a year of her son's killing, Maureen Kearney was herself dead. Her family believed that stress greatly contributed to her illness.

At the time of her death, she was seeking legal advice on the possibility of pursuing Sinn Féin through the courts for compensation for her son's death.

Yet the Kearney killing did not gather momentum like the McCartney murder. The reason is that Andrew Kearney was shot dead three months after the signing of the Belfast Agreement.

The prevailing political climate did not allow for too much pressure to be put on Sinn Féin. The dominant mood among the political and media establishment was that such incidents happen. They were IRA 'internal house-keeping' and it was best to turn a blind eye.

The IRA has killed at least 20 other people when it was meant to be on ceasefire with little political fall-out. The victims were all working-class Catholics so their deaths didn't threaten or destabilise the peace process as the murder of a security force member or loyalist would have done.

Those killed were generally dissidents, drug dealers or alleged drug dealers, or those who had crossed senior IRA figures in some way.

The Provos interpreted the official indifference as effectively giving them the green light to continue to 'police' nationalist areas. No wonder Robert McCartney's killers confidently conducted a clean-up operation in Magennis's bar and believed they'd get away with it.

Had the murder occurred pre-Northern Bank, they undoubtedly would have done so. But the changed political environment, plus the media's imagination being captured by his five sisters' stance, has meant the story refuses to die.

While Sinn Féin and the IRA publicly say eyewitnesses should come forward with information to whomever they want, privately the Provos are trying to control the murder investigation.

People are making statements to police but they're restricting what they say. The statements so far contain absolutely no evidence about the murder which is abnormal given that it took place so publicly.

The IRA's statement acknowledges it has carried out its own investigation into the killing. It knows exactly who did what on the night in question. The IRA styles itself as an army. If it wanted to its members to confess to police, it could have ordered them to do so weeks ago.

Such a strategy would have saved Sinn Féin immense political damage. The charging of those responsible would effectively mark the end of the saga for the media. But, for whatever reasons, the IRA thus far does not seem to want to see even its expelled members in the dock.

March 8, 2005

This article appears in the March 6, 2004 edition of the Village.