FOCUS: Troubles for Sinn Fein

By Jodi Wynn,

Recent crimes linked to the Irish Republican Army have undermined support for the group, and Sinn Fein, its political wing, as Northern Ireland gears up for elections in May.

“People no longer believe in [the IRA] or trust them,” a shopkeeper in Belfast told the Washington Post.

The loss of faith comes after a series of IRA-linked crimes — the January 30 murder of Robert McCartney, the discovery of a money laundering scheme via a Bulgarian bank that has implicated a number of Irish citizens, and a $50 million Belfast bank robbery in December.

The IRA further outraged many by offering to shoot the individuals involved with the murder of McCartney, a Catholic and IRA supporter who was killed outside a bar in a non-political brawl.

The silence of roughly 70 potential witnesses to McCartney’s murder has been blamed on IRA intimidation.

Since the formation of the Irish Republican Army in 1919, just a few years after the unsuccessful Easter Rising rebellion against British rule, the organization has been divided by factionalism.

Paramilitary splinter groups include the Provisial IRA, the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA, the Official IRA and the Old IRA.

From the late 1960’s until the Good Friday ceasefire of 1998, over 3,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in a sectarian/nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland called the Troubles.

The ceasefire called for the disarmament of paramilitary groups such as the IRA, and for Sinn Fein to sever ties to such groups.

The recent surge of IRA-linked crime has undermined the group’s support from Catholics, who traditionally viewed it as a protector against attacks by Protestants opposed to Northern Irish secession from Great Britian.

Sinn Fein, which was supposed to have severed paramilitary links, has been warned by Prime Minister Tony Blair that it would be excluded to from the political process if it tolerates criminal activity.

President George Bush has called for the IRA to disband, and has barred Sinn Fein from attending the White House St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

The party is also under pressue from the parliaments of Europe and Britain, the latter of which voted this week to withhold nearly $850,000 per year in allowances from Sinn Fein’s Parliamentary representatives.

Sinn Fein was hoping for major gains in the upcoming May 5 elections in Northern Ireland.

But a recent poll finds Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams struggling with a disapproval rating of 52 percent, according to the Irish Times.

The same poll also finds that public support for Sinn Fein has dropped to nine percent.


“Sisters shatter code of silence in N. Ireland”
Washington Post, February 28, 2005

“Report: IRA money laundering via Bulgaria”
United Press International, February 22, 2005

“Banker: I traveled to Bulgaria with Flynn”
Irish Examiner, February 25, 2005

“Adams: IRA may be bank raiders”
The Scotsman, February 17, 2005

“I.R.A. says it offered to shoot killers of Belfast Man”
New York Times, March 8, 2005

“IRA statement in full”
PA, March 8, 2005

“How pub brawl turned into republican crisis”
The Guardian (U.K.), February 28, 2005

“Wars and Conflict: The Troubles”
BBC Online

“Sisters’ demand for justice heard from Belfast to White House”
Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2005

“Irish Republican Army”

“The Northern Ireland Conflict: The Good Friday agreement 1998-1999”
BBC Online

“Blair threatens to axe Sinn Fein from N. Ireland political process”
Agence-France Press, March 10, 2005

“Bush administration criticizes IRA, says it is time to disband”
Associated Press, March 10, 2005

“Sinn Fein lawmakers’ expense money withheld by U.K.”
Bloomberg, March 10, 2005

“Sinn Fein aims to protect support”
BBC Online, February 22, 2005

“Poll shows a further drop in support for Sinn Fein”
Irish Times, March 4, 2005

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