Pressure on Sinn Féin over Belfast pub brawl killing

14/02/2005 - 18:31:23

Sinn Féin leaders were tonight under growing pressure to urge the IRA gang blamed for a brutal pub brawl murder to turn themselves in.

Even though no one has yet been charged with Belfast man Robert McCartney’s stabbing, the identities of his killers is widely known.

After senior party representative Gerry Kelly visited the 33-year-old forklift driver’s grieving family, his sister Paula claimed republicans had frightened witnesses into silence.

She said: “It’s a taboo subject, no-one is allowed to speak about it. It’s in the interest of the IRA to get rid of the murderers because they seem to trying to destroy the organisation.”

A top IRA man in the Short Strand district of Belfast, where Mr McCartney lived, was among seven men questioned by detectives about the knifing.

He ordered the father-of-two to be killed after a row flared in the city centre Magennis’s bar two weeks ago, Mr McCartney’s family alleged.

The victim and a friend were beaten by up to 15 men who falsely accused them of making derogatory remarks to women in the pub.

“Witnesses have told us the gang attacked them with sewer rods and sticks. Obviously knives were produced and we have also been told there was a gun,” Paula McCartney said.

She claimed the bar was forensically cleaned by IRA men who warned witnesses against talking about the January 30 attack. CCTV footage was also allegedly seized from the pub.

Republicans have been on the defensive ever since the Provisionals were blamed for the stunning £26.5m (€38m) Northern Bank heist.

But on the same day Sinn Féin lost a High Court bid to halt a £100,000 fine for a terrorist abduction, the McCartney family urged influential members of the movement to intervene.

The victim’s fiance, Bridgeen Hagans, 27, revealed her astonishment at the wall of silence.

She said: “It’s unbelievable. I thought once someone kills someone the police got them and that was it, especially when they know who they are.”

Ms Hagans was due to marry Mr McCartney, the father of her two sons aged two and four, in July.

As she joined his four sisters in pleading for any witnesses to alert detectives, Mr Kelly met with them to express his anger at the killing.

“Gerry Kelly was appalled,” Ms McCartney said.

“He said he was going to say publicly he was going to back us 100% in whatever route we decided to go down.”

The North Belfast MLA later declared the killing was wrong, whether republicans were involved or not.

Insisting there should be no intimidation of witnesses, he said the family should get “justice and the truth”.

But as the storm grew around republicans, it emerged that President George Bush’s Northern Ireland aide is to be briefed.

Mark Durkan, leader of the nationalist SDLP, pledged to alert US Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss during a transatlantic trip this week.

He claimed: “His vicious murder was at the hands of IRA people, including a very senior IRA person who was centrally involved in the attack.

“Many of those IRA people have been prominent Sinn Féin election workers and minders for their politicians.

“The family are not claiming that this was a planned IRA operation. They are very clear that the full force of the IRA has been used to intimidate witnesses and prevent the killers from being brought to justice.”

He added: “This is the worst kind of oppression by the IRA of their own community. It is a frightening example of the Mafia culture that is tearing away at our communities and threatening decent people.

“The family have asked me to take this case up and I gave them my word that I will do so.”

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