Europe pledges cash for McCartney family's legal fight

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The Independent Online

MEPs have called for an unprecedented use of EU funds to help pay for a civil action against those accused of murdering Robert McCartney, the Belfast man whose death has been blamed on the IRA.

MEPs have called for an unprecedented use of EU funds to help pay for a civil action against those accused of murdering Robert McCartney, the Belfast man whose death has been blamed on the IRA.

The overwhelming vote in favour came after an international campaign by Mr McCartney's sisters, who have won allies from Strasbourg to Washington, and who want to mount their own case if police fail to prosecute.

Mr McCartney, 33, a Roman Catholic and father of two children, was stabbed to death outside a Belfast pub on 30 January. The IRA has admitted its supporters were involved, reportedly offering to shoot those responsible.

Witnesses to the killing have not come forward, hampering the police inquiry, and the row has provoked a political crisis for Sinn Féin. The two Sinn Féin MEPs, Bairbre de Brun and Mary Lou McDonald, refused to back yesterday's resolution, endorsing instead a motion less critical of the party and the IRA.

But the resolution was passed by 555 votes to 4, with 48 abstentions, in an unusual display of political unity - bringing together all but one of the parliament's fractious groupings.

It means the European Commission will discuss making a donation from a €1m (£650,000) fund created after the 11 March bombings in Madrid to help victims of terrorism get their lives back on track.

Mr McCartney's relatives, who met President George Bush in March, are hoping to raise £250,000 for their civil case, though it remains unclear how much of that could be made available by the EU.

Yesterday the signals from the Commission were positive, despite some technical questions about whether the murder would need to be officially designated as a terrorist act.

One official said it would be possible to make the grant legally, though he cautioned: "The McCartneys will have to set up an association and a fund. There is a long way to go and it is going to be complicated to make sure that the legal requirements are respected."

Earlier, the Socialist group in the European Parliament had considered making a donation but that idea was dropped in favour of using the EU fund.

Paula McCartney, who attended the vote in Strasbourg, said: "In reality, the support of Sinn Féin hasn't been sincere and hasn't been genuine. They're not doing everything they can to help the family.".

The motion pulled few punches, saying Mr McCartney "was brutally murdered by members of the self-styled 'Irish Republican Army' who attempted to cover up the crime and ordered all witnesses to be silent about involvement of IRA members".

It added that "if the Police Service of Northern Ireland is unable to bring a prosecution in relation to the murder of Robert McCartney, the European Union should grant a financial contribution ... toward the cost of legal fees incurred by the family."

Jim Allister, of the Democratic Unionist Party, said: "Europe has voted today to roundly and unequivocally condemn them [Sinn Féin]."

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