DUBLIN — A former Irish Republican Army commander linked to one of the outlawed group's most notorious killings was shot to death at close range Tuesday morning on a street near his home in Belfast, residents and police said.
No group claimed responsibility for killing Gerard "Jock" Davison, 47, in Belfast's Markets neighborhood, an Irish Catholic district that saw many shootings and bombings during the bloodiest years of Northern Ireland's four-decades-old conflict.
It was the first fatal shooting in Northern Ireland in more than a year, and police said it was too early to speculate on a motive.
"This was a cold-blooded murder carried out in broad daylight in a residential area and it has no place in the new Northern Ireland," said the policeman leading the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Justyn Galloway.
Davison was a Belfast IRA commander in 2005 when he allegedly ordered IRA comrades to attack a man, Robert McCartney, at a pub near the Markets following an exchange of insults. Nobody was ever successfully prosecuted for the fatal stabbing attack, which happened in front of dozens of witnesses, amid claims of IRA intimidation.
McCartney's widow, his mother and four sisters took their demands for justice all the way to the White House, winning support from Hillary Clinton and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, a campaign that helped spur the IRA to renounce violence and disarm later that year.
McCartney's sisters accused Davison of making a throat-slashing gesture to his IRA colleagues before McCartney, 33, was chased outside the pub and killed. IRA members confiscated the pub's surveillance video footage, cleaned up forensic evidence and ordered pub-goers to tell police nothing or risk IRA retaliation, according to police and court testimony.
Davison was arrested on suspicion of ordering the killing but not charged. Two others, including his uncle Terence Davison, were charged with McCartney's murder but acquitted in 2008.
IRA representatives met McCartney's widow and sisters and offered to have the IRA members responsible killed as punishment, an offer the women rejected. The IRA and its allied Sinn Fein party later announced they had expelled or suspended three IRA members and eight Sinn Fein members over their alleged role in the assault on McCartney and the cover-up of evidence.
Gerard Davison always denied involvement in the McCartney attack, insisting he tried to act as a peacemaker when McCartney and McCartney's friend Brendan Devine got into an argument inside the pub with Davison's uncle and some IRA members at his table.
Davison's body lay in the street Tuesday until police constructed a tent around the victim to protect forensic evidence. Residents said at least some of Davison's three children saw their father lying dead and ran home screaming.
Senior members of the IRA and Sinn Fein arrived at the police cordon to talk with agitated residents of the Markets. The area was also, in the past, the site of bloody turf wars between the dominant IRA faction, the Provisionals, and the smaller Official IRA over the control of pubs and other criminal rackets.
Sinn Fein official Alex Maskey said his party wouldn't speculate on who killed Davison or why. He called Davison "a longstanding republican" who was "very well regarded."
A social club for Provisional IRA members who have served prison time, the Felons Club in Catholic west Belfast, in a statement called Davison "a great man" who was killed by "cowardly criminal lowlifes."
When Davison wasn't charged in connection with the attack, one of McCartney's sisters accused him of being a paid police informant who was being protected in exchange for intelligence on IRA activities — a charge he rejected in a 2007 interview.
The Provisional IRA is observing a 1997 cease-fire in support of Northern Ireland's peace process after killing nearly 1,800 people in a failed effort to force the British territory out of the United Kingdom and into the Republic of Ireland. But splinter groups continue to mount bombings and shootings, and feuds within the IRA's fractured ranks can turn deadly.
Northern Ireland's last fatal shooting came in April 2014, when a former Belfast commander of a faction called the Continuity IRA was killed by former comrades.