McCartneys hold vigil in defiance of threats

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The family of the murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney are to go ahead with a vigil in his memory tomorrow, despite an incident which they regard as "fascist behaviour" by republican supporters.

The family of the murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney are to go ahead with a vigil in his memory tomorrow, despite an incident which they regard as "fascist behaviour" by republican supporters.

The McCartney family say they were abused by up to 10 people in their home district of Short Strand in east Belfast as they distributed leaflets publicising Sunday's vigil.

It is to be held outside Magennis's bar near the centre of Belfast, where Robert McCartney was fatally stabbed in an incident involving members of the IRA in January.

The killing has received international attention, with several of the McCartney family travelling to Washington to meet President George Bush on St Patrick's Day last month.

The episode is regarded as having causing considerable damage, domestically and abroad, to the IRA and Sinn Fein. The republican movement responded with calls from both the IRA and the president of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, for those involved in the incident to co-operate fully with the authorities.

The IRA announced, to widespread incredulity, that it had offered to shoot those involved, and had expelled three of its members. According to the McCartney family, the most senior of the three men expelled from the IRA was present at this week's street row.

The family say they had to stop handing out leaflets after they were intimidated by men and women who shouted abuse at them and insulted their brother.

Catherine McCartney said yesterday that the former senior IRA member was at the scene. "I personally think it was orchestrated," she said. "He was standing there, not shouting, and his son was taking photographs."

A local resident, Mary King, contested this version of events, saying only four people had been there with the McCartneys. She said: "My sister was handed a leaflet by the McCartneys and she let it drop to the ground, as is her choice.

"As soon as that happened the McCartneys started shouting abuse at her and one of them behaved really aggressively. Words were exchanged for sure, but that was it and it came from both sides."

The incident was widely condemned. The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, said: "This is the usual sinister activity from sinister people. It is the same old story - intimidating witnesses not to go forward and then intimidating the family because they won't shut up. That seems to be an extraordinary position to adopt on a family who have lost their brother to murderous thugs."

Peter Robinson, the Democratic Unionist candidate for Belfast East, described the incident as an outrage, saying claims that the McCartney family had been threatening were simply preposterous. Ms McCartney said that a slogan had appeared on a Short Strand wall saying: "The McCartneys are liars", but had quickly been painted over. She said she did not know if the slogan had been painted out by supporters of the family or by others who were embarrassed that the word "liar" had been misspelt "lair".

Ms McCartney said opinion in the Short Strand was divided on the question of their campaign for those involved in her brother's killing to be charged.

Although numerous republicans have been interviewed by the police, those suspected of direct involvement in the murder have all exercised their right to silence, refusing to answer questions and thus providing nothing of use to detectives. All of the 12 men questioned over the incident have been released without charge.

Gerry Adams recently made clear he wanted republicans to co-operate, saying of their refusal to do so: "I take it personally."

A number of members of Sinn Fein who were in the pub were suspended by the party and one of these, Deirdre Hargey, has been withdrawn as a candidate for Belfast city council. Sinn Fein said she could not stand while suspended. She had been selected to run for the Laganbank ward.

Although the McCartney killing was regarded as hugely damaging to Sinn Fein, there is as yet no sign that the episode will harm the party's prospects in the general election.

In such contests the imperative to vote for the strongest candidate prevails over almost all other considerations, in both the nationalist and Unionist community. So far the signs are that Sinn Fein's steady progress in election results will continue.

Asked about the effect of her family's campaign, Ms McCormack said: "It's very hard to assess. If it does make a difference it will mainly be in Short Strand. I can't see it having a widespread effect."