Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Sinn Fein politician battered by IRA husband

Crazed ex-Provo assaulted wife, wrecked her home and then tried to torch her car

BRUTALLY ASSAULTED IN HER OWN HOME: SF politician Breige Brownlee
BRUTALLY ASSAULTED IN HER OWN HOME: SF politician Breige Brownlee
MARRIED BEHIND BARS: Former IRA prisoners Breige Brownlee and Paul Norney
MARRIED BEHIND BARS: Former IRA prisoners Breige Brownlee and Paul Norney
SUCCESSFUL POLITICAL CAREER: Breige Brownlee with SF chief Gerry Adams
SUCCESSFUL POLITICAL CAREER: Breige Brownlee with SF chief Gerry Adams

A Sinn Fein politician was beaten up by her estranged IRA gunman husband in a brutal Christmas Day assault that finally ended their 30-year relationship.

Paul Norney -- who served 20 years in an English jail for the attempted murder of a policeman -- also wrecked terrified Breige Brownlee's west Belfast home and tried to torch her car.

The crazed 57-year-old will be sentenced on Thursday after pleading guilty to assault, arson, criminal damage and threats to damage property.

He has been held on remand in Maghaberry Prison since the frightening festive attack.

Like her husband Norney, ex-Sinn Fein councillor Breige, 54, is also a former IRA prisoner.

The mother-of-three was jailed for eight years in 1977 for possession of fire-bombs.

Fight

The paramilitary turned politician is still too upset to talk about her ordeal at the hands of childhood sweetheart who she separated from some years ago.

Liaising on her behalf, a Sinn Fein spokesman said Breige did not wish to comment on the case.

Norney showed up at Breige's home in the St James' area of west Belfast last Christmas Day spoiling for a fight. She pleaded with him to leave but her cries fell on deaf ears.

Norney grabbed his wife's mobile phone and tried to smash it fearing she was calling the police.

He then repeatedly hit the front door of her house after she managed to force it closed.

Three days later Norney, who has an Open University degree in social sciences, repeated his campaign of harassment against Breige.

This time he set fire to her Hyundai Matrix car.

He also threatened to burn down the home of Bernadette Irwin, who is a friend of the Sinn Fein member.

Norney was later arrested and charged with arson and assault.

He has spent the last 10 months on remand in Maghaberry Prison and is now awaiting sentencing.

Ridiculous

During that time he wrote a ridiculous letter to Sunday Life moaning about how an Ulster fry is not available on the jail dinner menu because it is not considered healthy.

Breige Brownlee and Paul Norney's bitter fall-out shows how the most rock-solid of republican relationships can fall apart.

The couple, who first met as teenagers in west Belfast, married in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight in September 1987.

Norney was 12 years into a minimum 20 year sentence for the attempted murder of a policeman in England.

Breige had been released from Armagh Women's Prison just three years earlier after doing a seven year stretch for possession of an IRA fire-bomb. Prison chiefs allowed just eight guests to attend their wedding ceremony at which only two photographs were permitted.

Speaking about her love for Norney, Breige said at the time: "The first time I saw him it was at my granny's house. He was 15.

"I looked at him and I just knew that was it. To tell you the truth it is hard to put in words. Yes, he is attractive, tall with dark blue eyes.

"Over the years I went with others, one better looking, but there has never been anyone else for me but Paul.

"There is something about him that is very strong, very genuine."

Norney -- who was freed from jail in 1996 after serving 21 years behind bars -- joined the IRA in west Belfast as a teenager.

He went on the run aged 15 after an attack on a factory left three soldiers dead.

The young Provo was eventually arrested, but later escaped from a juvenile detention centre.

Strange

He made his way to England, where aged 17, he was involved in the attempted murder of a policeman.

Norney was jailed for a minimum 20 years before his release in 1996.

After tying the knot with Breige in 1987 it was a further nine years before their marriage was consummated.

She touched on this in a media interview in 1995, saying: "I know it seems strange to other people to get married to someone in prison, to have a marriage of nearly eight years that has never been consummated.

"But we have grown together rather than apart. He is my best friend. It doesn't make us any less together, we're just on a different level."

Although the couple remained together for some time after Norney's release from jail they have spent the last number of years apart.

In that time Breige Brownlee's political career in Sinn Fein took off and she was co-opted onto Belfast City Council in 2009.

But she lost her seat in the Lower Falls in the 2011 elections to the SDLP. Despite this she remains an active member of Sinn Fein in west Belfast.

Republican sources told Sunday Life she plans to stand for election to the council in 2015.

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