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A callous Dublin killing

Maybe the gunman didn't set out to kill Joseph Rafferty as he walked from his apartment to his van that morning. The first shot grazed his leg and went on to ream a two-finger hole in the sill of the white van. But the cartridge from the second barrel of the sawn-off shotgun gouged a two-fist-sized cavity in Rafferty's chest. He was dead before his body slumped to the ground.

Six weeks before his murder on April 12, Joseph Rafferty had been warned that a notorious IRA man planned to 'kneecap' him. But when the initial blast directed at his leg failed to disable him, the second was discharged into his chest at point-blank range.

The murder outside Rafferty's apartment in Ongar, west Dublin, was just another fatal shooting in the middle of a frenzied gangland war that saw four dead in Dublin that week. Immediate media reports said Joseph's killing was connected to an underworld drug feud. And, in what now appears to have been a synchronised strategy, one caller told the Sunday World that Joseph Rafferty was a drug dealer killed by rivals while other informers passed the same information to the Gardai.

If Joseph Rafferty's family had not been made of sterner stuff, the murder would have been filed away under scum-killing-scum. And if there weren't so many similarities to the murder of Robert McCartney by IRA men in Belfast, the slaying of Joseph Rafferty by an IRA man in Dublin would have been forgotten.

However, the fallout from the murders is too close for Sinn Fein/IRA's comfort. Both the murdered men, and their surviving families, were Sinn Fein voters; both murders had their genesis in a barroom row; both were victims of IRA killers; both men were posthumously rumoured to be gangsters; both families were threatened when they raised the spectre of IRA murder; both murders were initially denied by Sinn Fein.

The countdown to Joseph Rafferty's murder began after a row at a wedding party in a south inner-city Dublin hotel bar last October. Joseph was told he was 'going to get it from the RA'. A family member's car was burned with acid and the windows broken. Other family members, including his 66-year-old mother, were threatened.

Joseph Rafferty, a streetwise former motorcycle courier, never took the threats seriously, but his sister Esther Uzell went to see Daithi Doolin, the Sinn Fein councillor for whom the family had voted.

Three times she contacted Doolin, and twice she identified by name the infamous IRA man who had threatened Joseph. "I went to Sinn Fein to have the threats made on Joseph called off and because of their connection to the IRA," said Esther. "And the last time I saw him, Daithi Doolin assured me the man I said had threatened Joseph had been spoken to."

Detectives investigating the case believe the killer watched Joseph Rafferty for two weeks before he dressed as a construction worker, drew a sawn-off shotgun, and shot him. An eyewitness identified the killer as he walked away from the scene.

Everybody in the flats around Grand Canal Street, where Joseph lived among his family, knows who killed him and that he was associated with Sinn Fein and the IRA. Detectives who have spent the past six months investigating the crime know the identity of Joseph Rafferty's killer. And the Rafferty family knew the identity of the man who had threatened to kill Joseph before he was murdered.

Everyone, the Gardai, the Rafferty family and their neighbours who saw the months of threats and intimidation, know who Joseph's killer is. The killer's associates continue to taunt the Raffertys about Joseph's murder.

Sinn Fein councillors in Dublin certainly know the identity of the man who the Raffertys asked them to prevent killing Joseph. Privately, Sinn Fein don't dispute that the same man murdered Rafferty. Publicly, they insist he is not a member of Sinn Fein.

Joseph Rafferty (29), the father of a four-year-old daughter, worked hard through the week and did jobs at the weekend to save the money for the flat in west Dublin that he bought last year. Tall, handsome and popular, he was never in trouble and had no criminal record - but he could handle himself if pushed.

Detectives investigating Joseph Rafferty's murder have only one suspect, a body of evidence and a detailed knowledge of his long association with Sinn Fein and the IRA. He was arrested, but never charged, in 2000 after a failed murder attempt on another criminal and was seen throwing away a .38 revolver on which forensic scientists later found his fingerprints. In a follow-up search of his flat, Sinn Fein election literature for two Dublin Sinn Fein TDs, Sean Crowe and Aengus O Snodaigh, was found.

Detectives discovered he was also part of the IRA spy team led by Deputy O Snodaigh's election agent, Niall Bennett, currently serving a five-year prison sentence for IRA membership. A year later, he was arrested after an IRA squad shot dead a drug dealer they had failed to kill in 2000.

He was also identified after a man was beaten close to death with a lump hammer as he lay in bed. The victim declined to sign a statement.

On Monday night an emergency motion was passed unanimously at Dublin City Council condemning the continuing intimidation of the Rafferty family by those opposing their campaign to bring Joseph Rafferty's murderer to justice. Councillor Gary Keegan said that the killer had worked on a number of election campaigns for Sinn Fein and was in regular contact with prominent Sinn Fein/IRA politicians and activists.

Sinn Fein Councillor Daithi Doolin, who represents the Pearse Street area where the Raffertys live, said he was working closely with the family. He said he would resign with fellow Sinn Fein Councillor Christy Burke if Rafferty's killer is proven to be a member of Sinn Fein.

Esther Uzell, Joseph's sister, is deeply angry. "Daithi Doolin said that Robert's murder was never sanctioned by the IRA Army Council. But why would he need it sanctioned if, as Daithi Doolin says, he is not a member of the IRA. We never said the IRA did it. He was murdered by a member of Sinn Fein/IRA."

Esther Uzell also spoke about the campaign to silence any neighbours who witnessed the threats to Joseph or the intimidation of the Rafferty family.

"We have the best neighbours in the world but people were told to shut up. Some have been put in a van, taken up the mountains and hammered. Now they have killed Joseph, they know it could happen to them."

Esther, a portrait in courage, has spoken to the McCartney sisters on the phone and expects to see at least one of them next week. A meeting with the Taoiseach has been promised.

Sinn Fein/IRA may have faced down presidents, and prime ministers and taoisigh but they have met their match in a determined Dublin woman driven by the murderous injustice she believes they did to her family.