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Robert McCartney's sisters travelled world in search for justice

By Rebecca Black

Published 07/05/2015

Bridgeen Hagans, fiancée of the late Robert McCartney (left), and his five sisters walk in Lafayette Park across from the White House in 2005
Bridgeen Hagans, fiancée of the late Robert McCartney (left), and his five sisters walk in Lafayette Park across from the White House in 2005
Catherine (left) and Paula (centre) McCartney with family friend Sinead Commander outside Number 10 Downing Street after meeting PM Tony Blair
Paula (right), Gemma (left) and Catherine McCartney meeting European Parliament President Josep Borrell
President Bush shaking hands with Paula

They were the women from a tight-knit republican enclave in Belfast who made the world sit up and listen.

Catherine McCartney, along with her four sisters Paula, Gemma, Donna and Claire, refused to be silenced when their brother Robert was brutally murdered a short distance from his home during a night out on January 30, 2005.

His fiancée Bridgeen Hagans stood alongside them.

Many people in the staunchly republican Markets area knew who was behind the murder, but all remained silent.

When the PSNI tried to investigate the scene, an impromptu riot blocked their access. 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 to come to McCartney's aid, instead a police car on a routine patrol spotted him and called paramedics to the scene.

In these days before Sinn Fein approved co-operation with the PSNI, police officers were met with a wall of silence.

More than 71 potential witnesses claimed to have been in the pub toilet at the time of the attack, a toilet that measures just four feet by three feet.

The republican movement carried out their own investigation into the matter after which Sinn Fein suspended 12 members of the party and the IRA expelled three members.

The McCartney sisters say senior IRA men Padraic Wilson and Sean Hughes met them following their brother's murder and said they were carrying out an internal investigation into the matter.

Wanting justice through the courts, they lobbied local politicians to help them bring their brother's killers into the dock.

When politicians seemed reluctant with the delicate negotiations under way to persuade the DUP and Sinn Fein into government together, the sisters turned to the media.

They bravely told their story and stood their ground despite attacks on them from within the same Markets and Short Strand area where they had lived their whole lives and their family was deeply rooted.

Gemma, a community nurse, was driven out of the area while she was conducting mobile cancer screening tests for women, Donna closed down her city centre newsagents after repeated threats from republicans and there is now little left of the family living in the area.

Yet the sisters held their heads high.

They took their pursuit of justice to Downing Street, and then to Europe where then President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell offered full support.

Next they went to the most powerful man in the world. They met President George Bush in the White House on St Patrick's Day just two months after their brother was murdered.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was even frozen out of the events that year, despite having attended in previous years, as the McCartney sisters captured the hearts of America.They even won the support of veteran Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy.

In 2007 Catherine penned a book, Walls of Silence, about her family's campaign for justice.

They have remained active in the years since, still pressing for justice despite being continually disappointed.

In 2013 they met Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, and called for the IRA to hand over the information it gleaned in its internal inquiry to the PSNI.

The closest they have got to justice was two men being charged, but they were acquitted of the murder in 2008.

Belfast Telegraph

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