CATHERINE McCartney's book, Wa l l s of Silence, is the story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, fighting for justice against unimaginable odds. The McCartney sisters' battle, which began after their brother Robert was murdered outside Magennis's bar in Belfast two years ago, takes place in the context of the winding down of the peace process, not in the heat of the Troubles.
Five courageous women stand up not to the might of the British: their voices are raised against the injustice of the 'ceasefire IRA', an organisation whose only victims are the communities they originally arose to protect.
What makes this book so important is that it isn't merely the McCartney sisters' story. This tale belongs to us all.
My husband . . . journalist and former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre . . . and I know all too well the reality of life in areas of the North dominated by Sinn Fein and the Provos. Speaking out against them, like speaking out against the Mafia, is dangerous.
As Catherine McCartney explains: "Republicanism was no longer the blood pumping through the veins of this organisation. Money and power had replaced ideals and convictions."
I was six months' pregnant when they picketed our home in Ballymurphy, West Belfast, in 2000. It was over speaking the truth about the murder of Real IRA member, Joe O'Connor.
Anthony and another ex-IRA man, Tommy Gorman, published a statement about the killing that left no doubt who was responsible: the Provisional IRA.
None of us were Real IRA supporters. We just felt it important that the truth be told.
The IRA threatened us. After the first picket outside our home, we had to remain away for four days. After the second one, we moved out for a month. The home of Joe O'Connor's widow, Nicola, and her children, was also picketed. Five years later, Sinn Fein and IRA stalwarts picketed the home of Robert McCartney's partner, Bridgeen Hagans, and her two young sons, forcing her to leave.
As Catherine McCartney writes: "By 1998, a child on the street could have told you who was a member of the local IRA.
Secrecy was no longer beneficial to the purpose of this gang; belonging to the IRA provided a status and power required for lording it over the community rather than fighting a colonial war against the British."
Unfortunately, the McCartneys' story isn't rare. What is exceptional is the tenacity with which the sisters have taken on the Provos and the worldwide support they have garnered.
"Robert's murder impacted not just on us, but on everyone, " Catherine writes. "There was an underbelly of evil lurking in the streets of Belfast. It was present in those who disguised themselves as community benefactors, feeding off the debris of a 30-year-old conflict and carving out a niche of power and patronage. Its victims could be anyone as long as the community from which they fed continued to sup from the cup of propaganda."
Catherine McCartney's book sets us straight: this has happened to too many people. For those of us who have lived Catherine's story, it is a balm to read. For the rest of society, it is vital to hear the truth of life after the peace process in Northern nationalist areas, to become bothered by the details. The McCartney sisters have broken the walls of silence. By reading this book, we follow them through the gap.