Murder of Robert McCartney
The murder of Robert McCartney (1971 – 31 January 2005) occurred in Belfast, Northern Ireland, allegedly carried out by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He was a father of two children and was engaged to be married in June 2005 to his longtime partner, Bridgeen Hagans. He was a Roman Catholic and lived in the predominantly nationalist Short Strand area of east Belfast, and was said by his family to be a supporter of Sinn Féin.
Robert McCartney was involved in an altercation in "Magennis' Bar" on May Street in Belfast's city centre on the night of 30 January 2005. He was found unconscious with stab wounds in Cromac Street by a police patrol car; he died in hospital the following morning. McCartney was 33 years old.
The fight arose when his friend, Brendan Devine, was accused of making an insulting gesture or comment to a woman in the Co social club. When Devine refused to accept this or apologise, a brawl began. McCartney, who was attempting to defend Devine, was attacked with a broken bottle and then dragged into Verner Street, beaten with metal bars and stabbed. Devine also suffered a knife attack, but survived. The throats of both men had been cut and McCartney's wounds included the loss of an eye and a large blade wound running from his chest to his stomach. Devine was hospitalised under armed protection.
On 27 June 2008 Terence Davison was found not guilty of committing the murder.
Forensic cover-up and investigation
When Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers arrived at the scene, their efforts to investigate the pub and surrounding area were met with an impromptu riot. Rioting by youths, specifically attacking the police, forced them to pull back from the area, which delayed initial investigation. Police with riot gear arrived later in the evening, and were also attacked. Alex Maskey of Sinn Féin claimed, "It appears the PSNI is using last night's tragic stabbing incident as an excuse to disrupt life within this community, and the scale and approach of their operation is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable." There have been suggestions that the rioting was organised by those involved in the murder, so that a cleanup operation could take place in and around where the murder took place. Clothes worn by McCartney's attackers were burned, CCTV tapes were removed from the bar and destroyed and bar staff were threatened. No ambulance was called. McCartney and Devine were noticed by a police car on routine patrol, who called an ambulance to the scene.
When the police launched the murder investigation they were met with a "wall of silence"; none of the estimated seventy or so witnesses to the altercation came forward with information. This is not an unusual attitude among Irish nationalists, who have mixed views of the new police force. In conversations with family members, seventy-one potential witnesses claimed to have been in the pub's toilets at the time of the attacks. As the toilet measures just four feet by three feet, this led to the toilets being dubbed the TARDIS, after the time machine in the television series Doctor Who, which is much bigger on the inside than on the outside.
Sinn Féin suspended twelve members of the party and the IRA expelled three members some weeks later.
Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, urged witnesses to come forward to "the family, a solicitor, or any other authoritative or reputable person or body". Adams continued, "I want to make it absolutely clear that no one involved acted as a republican or on behalf of republicans." He suspended twelve members of Sinn Féin. Adams stopped short of asking witnesses to contact the police directly, unsurprising in light of Sinn Féin's historic lack of confidence in the police in Northern Ireland, whether it be the PSNI or its predecessor the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The usefulness of making witness statements to the victim's family or to a solicitor was derided by the McCartneys and by a prominent lawyer and SDLP politician, Alban Maginness, soon afterwards.
On 16 February 2005, the IRA issued a statement denying involvement in the murder and calling on the perpetrators to "take responsibility".
On 8 March 2005, the IRA issued an unprecedented statement saying that four people were directly involved in the murder, that the IRA knew their identity, that two were IRA volunteers, and that the IRA had made an offer to McCartney's family to shoot the people directly involved in the murder.
In May 2005, Sinn Féin lost its council seat in the Pottinger area which covers the Short Strand, with the McCartney family attributing the loss to events surrounding the murder.
Since this time, the sisters of Robert McCartney have maintained an increasingly public campaign for justice which saw Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness make a public statement that the sisters should be careful that they were not being manipulated for political ends.
The McCartney family travelled to the United States during the 2005 St Patrick's Day celebrations where they were met by US Senators (including Hillary Clinton and John McCain) and US President George W. Bush who expressed support in their campaign for justice.
Support for Sinn Féin by some American politicians was diminished. Gerry Adams was not invited to the White House in 2005 and Senator Edward Kennedy backed out of a meeting that had been previously scheduled. The McCartney family, previously Sinn Féin supporters, pledged to never support Sinn Féin again, and a cousin of the sisters who raised funds for the political party in the United States has said that she would not be doing so in the future.
In December, the McCartney sisters met with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and told him they believed the murder had been ordered by a senior IRA member, and that Sinn Féin was still not doing all it could to help them.
On 31 January 2007, two years after the murder, and in line with the Party's new policy of supporting civil policing, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said that anyone with information about the murder should go to the police.
On 5 May 2005, Terence Davison and James McCormick were remanded in custody, charged with murdering McCartney and attempting to murder Devine respectively. McCormick is originally from England. They were held in the Republican wing of Maghaberry prison.
The trial of Terrence Davidson started on 22 May in Belfast Crown Court. Davidson was charged with murder, and with affray along with James McCormick and Joseph Gerard Emmanuel Fitzpatrick. Davidson was found not guilty by Mr Justice Gillen on 27 June 2008.
The McCartney family had lived in the Short Strand area of Belfast for five generations. However some local people in the Short Strand area, which is a largely Nationalist area, did not welcome their dispute with the IRA. A campaign of intimidation by Republicans drove members of the family and Robert's former fiancée, to relocate and has also caused one member to close her business in the city centre. Intimidation was continuing as of 2008. The last McCartney sister to leave the area (Paula) departed Short Strand on 26 October 2005.
In November 2005, the McCartney sisters and Bridgeen Hagans, the former partner of Robert McCartney, refused to accept the Outstanding Achievement award at The Women of the Year Awards, because it would have meant their sharing a platform with Margaret Thatcher, a hated figure in the Irish republican community.
- Internal Security Unit
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- BBC reports
- Other reports
- Police Service of Northern Ireland page appealing for information about the murder
- Debates in the European Parliament on 'Justice for the McCartney Family', 9 May 2005
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- BBC Article on Paula McCartney Leaving Short Strand