It's hard to remember a time since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord when the Irish Republican Army has come under such intense public attack - remarkably, even from some of its own supporters:
• Five sisters - the McCartneys - are leading the charge, demanding justice in a court of law for the Jan. 30 murder of their brother. From a Catholic Belfast neighborhood that's been an enclave of IRA support, the sisters say their brother's killers are widely known - and include IRA members - but no one is speaking up for fear of reprisal.
• A poll last week indicates the sisters' message resonating with Northern Ireland Catholics, 60 percent of whom said the IRA should disband.
• Outraged by the IRA's offer to handle the murder internally - mafia style - the US and Britain last week also demanded that the paramilitary group disband.
• Meanwhile, President Bush has snubbed Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm, by refusing to invite him to the White House on St. Patrick's Day. This in the wake of a finding that the IRA's responsible for a spectacular bank heist in December. Instead of hosting Mr. Adams, the president has invited the McCartneys.
The IRA's terrorists and criminals are not impressed or swayed by public opinion. But Sinn Fein is. It has staked its future on becoming a political participant in Northern Ireland, as part of the regional government between Protestants and Catholics set up by the Good Friday Accord. But the louder the complaints against the IRA, especially from the Catholic, republican community itself, and the longer they go unmet, the greater the danger for Sinn Fein's political future.
Mr. Adams can take the lead here by pushing the IRA to give up its arms and criminal behavior - yes, even to disband. He can move Sinn Fein to fully embrace the rule of law, by joining, for instance, the Northern Ireland Policing Board, tasked with establishing impartial policing.
As long as Sinn Fein is linked with the vigilante justice and widespread criminality of the IRA, it will never become a full-fledged political player.