I hope the following serves as a vignette regarding the steely nature of presidential candidate John McCain:
During the 2005 St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was largely cast out in the cold. This came as a blow to him, as he had come to expect cheers, not jeers, from the Washington establishment. But by 2005, Congress, and President Bush himself, had grown tired of Sinn Fein's apparent ambivalence toward the Irish Republican Army's criminal elements and activities.
Yet another of the IRA's many atrocities came to light around this time — the killing of Robert McCartney outside a bar in East Belfast by a crowd that included many IRA members. When the McCartney sisters appealed to Adams to help them investigate the circumstances of their brother's death, the Sinn Fein leader repeatedly snubbed them.
The 2005 St. Patrick's Day fete in Washington focused on the McCartney sisters who had been invited to tell their story over shamrock-shaped cookies and tea to Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd and John McCain. They also met with President Bush, who vowed to support them "100 percent." The whole story blew the lid off the romantic vision of the IRA amongst Irish-Americans and, for perhaps the first time ever, Americans saw Adams, Sinn Fein and the IRA for the monsters they really are.
Gerry Adams, meanwhile, had seen his guest-of-honor status at the St. Pat's celebrations scrapped. He did not meet with the President. Instead, the justice-seeking McCartney sisters were the cause celebre on this day. Even Kennedy, that Irish-American stalwart, pulled out of a meeting with Adams, citing the IRA's "ongoing criminal activity and contempt for the rule of law."
But John McCain — an Irish-American himself — delivered a thunderous speech at the American Ireland Fund dinner in which he branded the IRA "cowards" who did not deserve to be called Republicans. Looking Adams right in the eyes, McCain declared, "Stealing from banks and slaying men on the streets to settle personal grievances are not the acts of freedom fighters, they are the work of a small minority trying to hold back the forces of history and democracy and they hurt the very people for whom they claim to fight … There is nothing republican about the Irish Republican army."
McCain also stated that "[a]nyone, Irish, American or British who desires and works for the success of peace, freedom and justice must denounce in the strongest possible terms not only the cowards who murdered Robert McCartney but the IRA itself and any political organization that would associate with them." McCain's speech was so saturated with vitriol toward Sinn Fein and the IRA that Adams was stunned to silence — shortly after the speech, he wordlessly made a hasty exit. Adams' aides recalled wondering if the Sinn Fein leader was about to explode, cry or faint.
And so Gerry Adams learned that John McCain was not a man you wanted to mess with. McCain proved his mettle on March 16, 2005.