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I.R.A. Ties Put Pressure on Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland Peace Efforts

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

This year is the one hundredth anniversary of Sinn Fein, the main political party for Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. But these days there is little to celebrate.

Sinn Fein serves as the political organization of the Irish Republican Army. And the I.R.A. is being widely condemned over recent cases of robbery and murder. The Irish Republican Army began in nineteen nineteen. This week the American diplomat for Northern Ireland said it is time to "go out of business."

On Thursday, the British House of Commons voted to take away the right of parliamentary pay for Sinn Fein members. The party holds four seats in the British Parliament. The European Parliament is considering similar action.

Next Thursday is Saint Patrick's Day, an Irish celebration. Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, was not invited this year to join President Bush for the traditional observance at the White House. The heads of other political parties in Northern Ireland were not invited either. But White House officials have invited the five sisters of a truck driver killed in January by the I.R.A.

In the Gaelic language, Sinn Fein means "we ourselves" or "ourselves alone." The group started in nineteen oh five as a loose coalition of labor organizations. At that time, Britain ruled all of Ireland. Sinn Fein supporters wanted at least some independence from the British.

Today the territory is separated into the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Most Irish citizens are Roman Catholic. But Northern Ireland is a British province, and the population is mostly Protestant.

Years of violence between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland began in nineteen sixty-nine. Bombings were common. In nineteen ninety-seven, the Irish Republican Army declared a ceasefire. Peace talks led to a power-sharing agreement in April of the following year, on the Christian observance of Good Friday.

But political troubles continued. In October of two thousand two, British Prime Minister Tony Blair suspended the administration of Roman Catholics and Protestants. Sinn Fein wants a place in any renewed government. But political observers say its efforts are hurt by evidence against the Irish Republican Army.

In December, robbers stole up to fifty million dollars from a Belfast bank. Hostages were taken. Investigators found the I.R.A. responsible, which the group denies. The I.R.A. was ordered to pay a large fine.

Then, in January of this year, I.R.A. members killed a Roman Catholic truck driver. His name was Robert McCartney. It happened after a dispute at a drinking place in Belfast.

In reaction, the I.R.A. expelled some of its members. It also offered to shoot the men who killed Robert McCartney. But his family wants the killers to face justice. In the words of a family member, "Only in a court will the truth come out."

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.