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Northern Ireland Sisters Work for Justice Following Brother's Murder

President Bush and top U.S. lawmakers are defending their decisions to cancel meetings with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and to meet instead with the sisters of Robert McCartney. Members of the Irish Republican Army allegedly beat and stabbed Mr. McCartney to death in a Belfast pub on January 30, and his sisters have been campaigning for justice in his murder.

President Bush invited the five McCartney sisters - Paula, Catherine, Gemma, Claire and Donna - and Robert McCartney's fiancee, Bridgeen Hagans, to the annual St. Patrick's Day celebration at the White House on Thursday.

The president said he looks forward to meeting the women and he praised their decision to seek justice for their brother in the courts, rather than through violence.

"It's very important that people understand that the parties must renounce violence," he said. "The Good Friday Agreement laid out the way forward for peace in Northern Ireland and this administration and government strongly supports those steps. Tomorrow's message will be that we want to thank those in civil society who are working hard to achieve a peaceful resolution."

The women met with U.S. Senators in Washington Wednesday including Edward Kennedy and Hillary Clinton who said they hoped some good would come of the senseless murder of Robert McCartney. Mr. McCartney was brutally killed in a crowded pub in front of as many as 70 witnesses whom the sisters say are too afraid of the IRA to come forward.

Catherine McCartney thanked the lawmakers for their support and said she and her sisters would continue to press for justice.

"We cannot rebuild our lives unless these people are brought to justice," she said. "But importantly for Ireland also we don't believe that peace and violence can co-exist in Ireland and that Robert's murderers being brought to justice will be a clear signal that those in Ireland have chosen peace."

Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy, a well-known Irish-American and strong supporter of the Northern Ireland peace process, made headlines earlier this month when he announced he had cut off direct talks with Sinn Fein.

Senator Kennedy traditionally has welcomed Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to Washington. He said he decided to cut off direct talks with Mr. Adams until the Sinn Fein leadership severs all ties with the Irish Republican Army, the outlawed paramilitary group.

"Eleven years ago the cease-fire was announced in Ireland. Seven years ago the Good Friday Agreement was initiated," Sen. Kennedy said. "Two years ago Sinn Fein entered the lists and went through the election process and has had recognition by many of the people in Northern Ireland and southern Ireland as well. No political party - no political party - can also have an armed unit that continues violence and criminality in today's world."

Senator Kennedy said the brutality of the killing and the cover-up of the murder after the fact were especially troubling. He hopes Sinn Fein will once and for all separate themselves from the IRA.