DERRY — The Provisional IRA expelled three of its members who are suspected of involvement in the brutal 31 January killing of Robert McCartney outside a pub in east Belfast, the main city in Northern Irealnd. A fourth man was arrested after handing himself in to the police, and was later released without charges.

In a lengthy statement issued on Friday night, the IRA conceded that “some Republicans” had been involved in the murder, and that “any intimidation or threats in the name of the IRA to any person who wishes to help the McCartney family will not be tolerated.”

McCartney, 33, was stabbed and beaten outside Magennis’ pub near the nationalist Short Strand enclave of east Belfast, after getting involved in a dispute with a prominent local IRA man. It is alleged that as many as 15 men took part in the assault, in which McCartney’s throat was repeatedly slashed and one of his eyes gouged out. McCartney’s friend, Barney Devine, was seriously injured in the attack.

Since the incident, the McCartney family and his fiancée have made repeated assertions that the IRA was deterring witnesses from going to the police. On Sunday, a rally was held in Short Strand, where Paula McCartney called on her brothers’ killers “to do the patriotic thing” and give themselves up to the police, following similar comments from Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern last week.

The killing quickly gained notoriety as it highlighted concerns about the peacetime role adopted by the IRA as the “policer” of working-class Catholic communities in urban areas. Although distrustful of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the 3,000 residents of Short Strand quickly showed their ambivalence towards their IRA guardians, with slogans like “P-IRA scum” appearing on local walls and gables.

The McCartney family has been widely commended for its bravery in publicly challenging the IRA and Sinn Féin to relax its social control of the area and allow cooperation with the police. The Friday night IRA statement came 24 hours after the family met with Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Féin, the party linked to the IRA. Adams had just learned of an opinion poll conducted in the Republic of Ireland, where his personal approval rating had fallen by 20 per cent.

The embattled Adams has had to deal with the fallout from the December theft of €38 million from a Belfast bank, widely blamed on the IRA, as well as comments by the Irish Justice Minister that Adams combined his leadership of Sinn Féin with membership in the IRA Army Council.

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