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Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

They'll never vote Sinn Féin again

(by Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune)

"He was crawling on his hands and knees in the darkness outside the bar and they kicked and punched him. They beat him about the face and legs with sewer roads and then they stabbed him."

Paula McCartney says her brother Robert's killing is "like something the Shankill Butchers would have done" in the 1970s. "I never thought IRA men would do this to a nationalist in Belfast in the 21st century."

The police found McCartney (33) in a pool of blood outside Magennis's bar in May Street. His friend Brendan Devine, who was also stabbed and beaten, was staggering around, bleeding profusely.

His throat had been cut several times. The rows of stitches are so thick that someone initially thought he was wearing a neck chain. Another seamless line of stitches runs from his chest to his navel. Robert McCartney's horrific injuries could be seen as he lay in his coffin.

In the front room of a house in the Short Strand sit his five sisters - Paula, Gemma, Catherine, Claire and Donna - strong, smart, outspoken women. It's only women left in the family. Their oldest brother Gerard committed suicide four years ago and now Robert is gone too.

"Robert was just brilliant. He was loveable, larger than life, well-respected, and very fair. We won't let this go and forget him. We will fight for him, no matter who that means challenging," says Paula.

In the kitchen, McCartney's partner Bridgeen looks at photographs of a seaside day trip in August. Robert is fooling around on Newcastle beach with his two children Conlaed (4) and Brandon (2). Bridgeen still can't believe he's dead.

Two Sundays ago, McCartney and Brendan Devine went for a pint. Devine has been convicted for a post office raid. It is widely acknowledged McCartney had absolutely no criminal connections. They didn't normally drink in Magennis's. A crowd of IRA men were there, just returned from the Bloody Sunday march in Derry.

McCartney had history with one of them - a former Belfast Brigade OC, he is now operations' officer of the IRA's general headquarters (GHQ) staff. They had previously clashed at a social club. "It was over a trivial matter but **** doesn't like anyone even raising an eyebrow at him," says Paula.

McCartney and Devine were only in the bar minutes when the senior IRA man approached and claimed they'd made a rude gesture to a group of women. They denied it. The IRA figure demanded they apologise. McCartney refused and said he'd done nothing wrong.

A heated argument ensued. Paula was told a knife was taken from the bar kitchen. The family say the senior IRA figure signalled to the others to use the knife on Devine.

"A glass bottle was smashed in Brendan's face, then a hand went round his neck and his head was yanked back and his throat slashed," she says. The senior IRA figure "directed" the attack which the five others carried out.

McCartney dragged Devine out of the bar, frantically ringing a local taxi company for an ambulance. But the IRA men followed and, according to the family, were joined by around 15 friends and relatives.

McCartney was beaten and stabbed in the stomach, severing an artery. "His attackers went back into the pub and locked the doors. They ordered everyone not to make phone calls, even for an ambulance," says Paula.

A clean-up of the bar rid it of forensic evidence. Sources said there were 72 customers and the IRA men warned that if even one talked, everyone would be held responsible.

A police patrol noticed the two seriously wounded men outside and called an ambulance. McCartney clung to life for nine hours. His heart stopped three times. He died at 8.10 a.m.

His sister Gemma rang their elderly mother who was on holiday in Spain: "To tell her that news was the hardest thing I've ever done. It destroyed her. She wasn't even able to attend the funeral. My mother was a Sinn Féin voter. Robert was a Sinn Féin voter. I voted Sinn Féin but I'd vote DUP before I'd support Sinn Féin again," she says.

A cousin, who was a Sinn Féin fundraiser in Chicago, is cutting all ties with the party, Gemma says. Another sister, Catherine, who also voted Sinn Féin, says the IRA must not protect the killers.

"For years, the Catholic Church protected paedophile priests and let them use the church as cover for their activities. Some thugs joined the IRA so they could get away with brutality. They've been empowered by the IRA, and it must stop."

Catherine wants Sinn Féin to tell the killers to give themselves up. Paula describes the murderers as "scum" and "monsters". "It's scary that people like that are walking about with so much power. If anyone even thumped an IRA man, they'd be dead. Yet these people literally get away with murder."

Seven men arrested and questioned about the murder were later released. A car was seized by police and a washing-machine was reportedly taken away during a house search. The family are appealing to republicans, who washed clothes or helped the killers in any way, to pass on those details.

"Maybe at the time they didn't know what they were covering up, but they do now. If they keep it to themselves, they're as guilty as those who wielded the knife," says Paula.

The senior IRA man lives a few streets away from the McCartneys. He was seen visiting Sinn Féin's west Belfast headquarters, Connolly House, as normal last week.

One attacker has fled to Dublin. Five others remain in Belfast. "The thought of meeting them every day in the street is awful," says Paula. "I don't even want to breathe the same air, let alone look at them."

The family say Magennis's bar never contacted them to express their condolences nor sent a wreath. But the local community has been "brilliant". There were 64 sympathy notices in the Irish News. Often, when the IRA kills a nationalist, turn-out at the funeral is poor.

Over 1,000 mourners were at the McCartney funeral and 1,300 took part in a vigil for him, a sign of the high regard in which he was held and community disapproval of his murder.

The family want those with information to contact police. "Sinn Féin has said they should go to a priest or solicitor. What good will that do?" asks another sister, Donna.

Paula put up appeal posters in local bars, clubs and shops. Nowhere refused but the community centre decided to cover the police insignia at the bottom of the poster.

"That was petty," says Paula. "Anyone who saw pictures of the horrific wounds on Robert's face and body wouldn't worry about looking at a police badge."

February 14, 2005
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This article appears in the February 13, 2005 edition of the Sunday Tribune.

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