WASHINGTON — President Bush met on St. Patrick's Day with five sisters who want the outlawed Irish Republican Army held responsible for their brother's death.
Robert McCartney, 33, a Catholic forklift operator, was beaten and stabbed to death outside a Belfast pub Jan. 30 when he tried to defend a friend from what witnesses described as a knife-wielding IRA gang. McCartney's sisters -- Catherine, Gemma, Claire, Paula and Donna -- want charges brought against those responsible and say the investigation has been stalled by an IRA culture of silence.
McCartney's sisters and his fiancee met Bush for a few minutes during a St. Patrick's Day reception Thursday at the White House and asked him to use his influence in the case. The sisters said Bush asked McCartney's fiancee, Bridgeen Hagans, how she and their two young children were coping and offered his condolences.
"We pressed on the president the importance of getting justice for Robert, and he said he's 100% behind our campaign," Catherine McCartney said. She said Bush didn't say exactly what he would do to help, and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan didn't elaborate, either.
The sisters are hoping that public support in the United States will spur the IRA and its legal political arm, Sinn Fein, to encourage witnesses to come forward. Catholics often are reluctant to cooperate with the mostly Protestant Northern Ireland police force.
Before meeting with the McCartneys, Bush received a bowl of shamrocks in a public ceremony with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. Bush pledged to help the Irish people move toward a lasting agreement in the Northern Ireland peace process.
"As you work for peace, our government and the American people will stand with you," he said.
Bush invited the McCartney sisters to his private reception with Northern Ireland civil leaders and activists. But because of the allegations about the IRA's involvement in McCartney's death and other crimes, he did not invite some Northern Ireland political leaders who had attended for 10 years, including Sinn Fein head Gerry Adams.
Ahern spoke to Adams for an hour Wednesday night. He said the Sinn Fein leader faced deepening isolation, particularly in Washington, unless the IRA went out of business.
"People want to see that we're going to get action, because if we don't, let's be frank about it, the icy reception this week will turn into just total exclusion, which is the opposite of what we want to achieve," Ahern said.
Though not invited to the White House, Adams got a standing ovation Thursday morning as he spoke to supporters at a Washington hotel. Adams told Friends of Sinn Fein that neither the McCartney killing nor the cold shoulder from some U.S. officials would weaken his party.