A former killer last night denied claims he was the Real IRA mastermind behind the riot mayhem in north Belfast. Tony ‘TC' Catney — who served a 16-year sentence for a sectarian murder — dismissed claims he leads the Real IRA terror gang in Belfast or that he orchestrated the destruction in Ardoyne on Monday in which a shot was fired at police.
The republican, who is a brother-in-law of Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, claims he is the victim of a smear campaign by the party.
On Monday the Real IRA opened fire on police during serious rioting in Ardoyne after an Orange Order parade.
Twenty-one police officers were injured and 18 plastic bullets were fired in violence that was reminiscent of the darkest days of the Troubles.
The rioting continued into Tuesday and Wednesday night with petrol bombs and paint hurled at the PSNI.
Further trouble broke out in the lower Newtownards Road area near the Short Strand.
Sinn Fein accused dissidents of organising the rioting and blamed the Real IRA for the gun attack in Ardoyne.
Republican and security sources said they believed Catney was the Real IRA's Belfast boss.
However, the veteran republican rubbished the claims.
Catney, who was pictured at the protest at Ardoyne on Monday, told Sunday Life that the “time is not right for a military campaign” and accused former Provo pals of waging a witch-hunt against him.
“This is all rubbish. I have my ear to the ground and as far as I am aware the Real IRA doesn't even exist in Belfast apart from one person,” said Catney.
“The time is not right for a military campaign, the conditions don't exist.
“Why then would I involve myself with the Real IRA? It is nonsensical.
“Because I was a life sentence prisoner I always have the threat of being returned to jail hanging over me.
“I would say this to the PSNI — if you believe in law and order and you think that I am involved in the Real IRA, then arrest me and prosecute me.”
Catney admits to being in Ardoyne at the height of Monday's rioting.
But he insists he did nothing more than observe the violence.
“The cops had CCTV cameras pointed at me all night,” he explained.
“I was on the Crumlin Road watching what was going on along with fellow republicans.
“I can't work out how Sinn
Fein is able to say this group was involved and that group was involved.
“What I do know for sure is that the rioting wasn't organised but that it did involve people from Ardoyne.
“For Gerry Kelly to say otherwise is wrong.”
In 1974, aged just 16, Catney murdered Protestant Maurice Knowles on the shores of Belfast Lough.
Knowles (17) was duck hunting when he was approached by Catney who shot him when he refused to hand over his shotgun.
After his release from prison in 1990 Catney started work for Sinn Fein. As Director of
Elections he oversaw the party's huge vote increase from 70,000 votes in 1993 to 163,000 votes in 2003.
But his questioning of Sinn Fein's support for the Good Friday Agreement led to him being increasingly sidelined.
Despite being the party's Director of Elections he was barred from involvement in the 2005 Westminster and local council polls.
Catney says that when he resigned the following year the whispering campaign against him started.
“Once I left Sinn Fein I became the victim of a witch-hunt, sniping and Chinese whispers,” he added. “In the autumn of 2006 a senior Sinn Fein member was briefing IRA members that I was the head of a heavily armed military organisation that wanted to kill Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness or Gerry Kelly.
“That was total rubbish then and it's total rubbish now.
“Because I have been the victim of a whispering campaign before it isn't surprising to hear this stuff linking me to the Real IRA now.”
Catney believes IRA bosses have it in for him because of his involvement in the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) group, which has a large ex-Provo membership. “The RNU includes former members of the IRA, INLA and independent republicans,” he said.
“It's about sitting down with each other and working out a common way forward.
“The Good Friday Agreement hasn't achieved anything, it's a sectarian document. When people voted for it they were voting for peace, not the contents of a deeply flawed document.
“Sinn Fein see our group as a threat and they see us offering an alternative, that's why I believe they have singled me out and are trying to depict that I am bathed in blood.”