Fiancée leads crusade against IRA killers

By David Lister
Times Online
14 Feb 2005

BRIDGEEN Hagans has just one word for the men who
killed her fiancé — “scum”.

In any other part of the United Kingdom the
description would barely raise an eyebrow, given the
circumstances in which Robert McCartney died. He was
stabbed in the stomach and kicked repeatedly in the
head as he fell to the pavement outside a city-centre

This, though, is the Short Strand in Belfast, where if
anybody is to be referred to as “scum” it is certainly
not the local IRA.

In this tight-knit republican neighbourhood, it is no
surprise that Ms Hagans, 27, can name every one of the
IRA members who, she believes, killed her boyfriend;
what is astonishing is that she is prepared to do it

The IRA may be adept at dealing with political crises,
but it has been caught off-guard after Mr McCartney’s
murder sparked an unprecedented community rebellion
and a wave of support from nationalist areas across
Northern Ireland.

Gazing around her as if in a trance, Ms Hagans
described yesterday how Mr McCartney, 33, a forklift
truck driver at an animal-feed factory, had been
looking forward to a drink when he went to Magennis’s
Bar in central Belfast. As he chatted to a friend, a
crowd of republicans started gesturing at the pair and
claimed that they had insulted one of their group.

What happened next is not clear, but in the confusion
Mr McCartney’s friend, Brendan Devine, 31, had a
bottle smashed over his head and his throat slit from
ear to ear.

With blood pumping from his friend’s neck, Mr
McCartney bustled him outside, but up to ten IRA
members charged after them. As he recovered in
hospital last week, Mr Devine recalled how both were
stabbed in the stomach.

According to his family, Mr McCartney’s attackers then
jumped repeatedly on his head. His face swelled to
such a size that it was five days before the hospital
returned his body, and even then his sisters had to
put fresh make-up on his face as new bruises came

In a community that was supposed to be unshockable
after 30 years of violence, the senselessness of Mr
McCartney’s murder has touched a raw nerve. “Even
without the Troubles these people would still have
been scum,” Mr McCartney’s sister, Paula, 40, told The
Times. “They’re psychopaths who have been empowered.
Sinn Fein voters have come up to me and said, ‘If we’d
known this was going to be the price of peace, we’d
have thought twice about voting’.”

Up to 1,200 people thronged the streets behind Mr
McCartney’s coffin on Tuesday, cramming into St
Matthew’s Church in the Short Strand where Father Sean
Gilmore denounced the killers as “evil”. Up to 1,000
more gathered for a candlelit vigil, leading to angry
scenes when two senior republicans appeared on the
fringe of the rally. Any doubts about the strength of
feeling disappeared altogether when anti-republican
graffiti appeared on a wall normally reserved for
slogans attacking the police.

For the moment Mr McCartney’s alleged killers,
including the former “Officer Commanding” of the IRA’s
Belfast “Brigade”, are believed to have fled Belfast.
Members of Mr McCartney’s family have said they will
increase their protest when they return by picketing
their homes.

In an unprecedented breakthrough for the area, they
are also asking anybody who was in the bar to talk
directly to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

When officers went to a house to remove a washing
machine for forensic analysis, IRA members told youths
to start a riot, but a group of mothers intervened.
“Let the police do their jobs,” they reportedly

Although Mr McCartney’s family say that their quarrel
is with individual IRA members and not the
organisation, his murder may prove a turning point as
other communities across the province wrestle against
their paramilitary rulers. Until Mr McCartney’s death
it seemed that, no matter what the IRA did in the
Short Strand, this community of tightly packed
streets, where a huge metal fence separates the 3,000
Roman Catholic inhabitants from 60,000 Protestants,
was prepared to look the other way.

When an IRA man tried to rape an under-age girl
recently, few were prepared to say a bad word against
him. Nobody batted an eyelid when another IRA member
threw his girlfriend off a balcony on holiday in
Spain. She survived.

When a 17-year-old was forced to put his hands
together as if in prayer before being shot through
both wrists, there was no outcry. His “crime” was to
have dared to use his fists against republicans.

Even as politicians accused the IRA of carrying out
the £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery before
Christmas, few here were prepared to accept the
assessment that the Provisionals — who once claimed to
be the protectors of the nationalist people — had
degenerated into a criminal organisation.

All that changed two weekends ago with the murder of
Mr McCartney.

Ms Hagans starts to sob as she describes how she told
her two boys — Conlaed, 4, and Brandon, 2 — that their
father was not coming home.

“I wish they [the local IRA] could look at my boys and
they’d know how it feels,” she said. “I’ve told the
boys that their daddy’s gone to heaven, but they’re
not eating and they cry non-stop.”

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