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Michael McGibbon murder 'a horrible echo of our nightmare'

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 20/04/2016

Eleanor King with a picture of her brother Andrew Kearney. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph
Eleanor King with a picture of her brother Andrew Kearney. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph
Andrew Kearney

The sister of a man killed in a punishment shooting says she has been retraumatised by the weekend murder of Michael McGibbon.

Andrew Kearney was cradling his two-week-old daughter when he was dragged from a flat by an eight-man IRA gang and shot.

He was left to bleed to death in a jammed lift where an emergency telephone was deliberately ripped out.

His perceived "crime" had been standing up to a senior Ardoyne republican.

The murder in July 1998 - a year after the IRA declared its second ceasefire - bears eerie similarities to the killing of Mr McGibbon.

Like the latest victim, Mr Kearney was 33, a father-of-four and was shot three times in north Belfast.

His sister Eleanor described her horror when she heard of the murder on Saturday morning.

She says paramilitary attacks have no place in today's society.

"I was sick to my stomach when it came on the news," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I almost thought the reporter was getting it wrong - that they had come across an old report and were getting the details mixed up.

"Word-for-word, it was the same as what happened Andrew.

"A 33-year-old father-of-four murdered in north Belfast in a punishment-style attack - those were the exact words used when Andrew was murdered."

Two weeks before his death Mr Kearney had clashed with the IRA's north Belfast commander.

He was in a pub on the Falls Road when the senior republican threatened his girlfriend's 18-year-old cousin.

Mr Kearney intervened and a fight broke out. The IRA man was knocked out - a very public humiliation for a high-profile figure that would not be tolerated.

A fortnight later an IRA gang burst into the Fianna Flats in the New Lodge where Mr Kearney was watching TV.

His two-week-old daughter Caitlin was sleeping alongside him. The gang dragged him to a nearby lift, shooting him once in each leg and in one of his ankles.

The door of the lift was jammed, while a phone was pulled from the wall, preventing help being summoned.

Mr Kearney's girlfriend found him lying in a pool of blood.

She had to dash down 16 flights of stairs to a neighbouring block of flats to call for help.

By the time paramedics arrived he was dead.

Eleanor added: "They shot him three times in the leg, once in each leg and once in the ankle.

"They used a large-calibre weapon which tore through the artery, and that's basically what led to his death.

"But I still say they knew what they were doing. They set out to murder him.

"The very fact they blocked the lift afterwards shows that."

Eleanor believes up to eight other people were involved in the killing, acting as lookouts or carrying weapons for the gang.

She said her brother was not involved in crime, and had no links to paramilitaries.

He shunned politics and was more interested in sport.

"All Andrew had done was stand up to someone in a bar fight," added Eleanor.

"His girlfriend had a cousin who was only 18. The man that was responsible for Andrew's murder was picking on the young lad and throwing his weight about.

"Andrew stuck up for the young lad and told him to pick on someone his own size.

"It quietened down for a bit, but then it all kicked off again.

"I believe Andrew jumped over tables to get to the man, and basically he hit him one dig and knocked him out.

"But because he lost face in front of all his cohorts, he went after Andrew."

Police figures show that almost 100 people were injured last year after being shot or assaulted by paramilitaries.

West and north Belfast were among the worst affected areas.

In the last 10 years a total of 855 people have been maimed in so-called punishment incidents.

Eleanor said there was no justification for anyone taking the law into their own hands.

"It shouldn't have happened back then and it most definitely should not be happening now," she added.

"These people are a law on to themselves. They do these so-called kneecappings thinking that it's in some way going to be acceptable.

"Also, by shooting someone in the leg, it suggests to the community that they must have done something wrong."

Mr Kearney's murder came just three months after the Good Friday Agreement.

His family has long believed the political climate meant it was easier to turn a blind eye.

Eleanor feels there should have been a stronger outcry.

"I just feel that if there had been action taken in those days after Andrew was murdered, it might be different now," she added. "People saw those responsible getting off after what happened to Andrew.

"There was no repercussions. There was silence from the two governments. Something should have been done to show this type of thing was not acceptable."

At the time several men were arrested and questioned over Mr Kearney's murder.

However, approaching the 18th anniversary, his killers are still walking the streets.

Eleanor said Gerry Adams privately apologised for her brother's murder, but has refused to do so publicly.

She is angered by Sinn Fein's lecturing on Mr McGibbon's murder. "I saw Gerry Kelly at the weekend condemn the murder, and I just thought: 'What a hypocrite'. It is okay for him to stand there and condemn the killing at the weekend, but to this day he has never come out and condemned Andrew's murder."

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