Belfast Telegraph

SDLP's Pat Catney: As a family we felt a real sense of shame after my brother Jim admitted sexually assaulting a young girl

The most probing interviews: Pat Catney Lagan Valley SDLP MLA on his despair over adopted sibling’s child abuse case, and running one of Belfast’s most famous pubs

By Claire McNeilly

Q You’re 63 and married to former civil servant Rosemary (57). How did you meet?

A She was a friend of my younger sister’s. She couldn’t stand me when we first met. She was 18, I was 24.  We got married in St Patrick’s Church in Lisburn on September 1, 1982. We only told the family the night before the wedding.

We went to Killiney Castle outside Dublin for a couple of days after the wedding and, later on, went skiing in France.

Q Tell me about your children and grandchildren.

A Katherine (35), a PR and marketing professional, was based in Shanghai but now lives in Munich. Sarah (31) is a childcare assistant and Patrick (30) is a qualified solicitor who works for Citibank. Emma (24) was out in Shanghai for three years and is now back home doing a Master’s degree at Ulster University.

I have two granddaughters — eight-year-old Emily (Patrick’s daughter) and Helena (Katherine’s daughter), who’s five months old.

Q Tell me about your parents and siblings.

A My father James passed away 10 years ago aged 86. He had kidney failure. Eileen is 92, has mild dementia and is in a nursing home.

My parents lived above the old Kitchen Bar when there was only one other family — the caretakers of the Masonic Lodge in Cornmarket — who lived within that notorious ring of steel around Belfast city centre. That’s hard to imagine these days.

There were nine of us counting myself: Elizabeth (69), an ex-property developer; civil engineer Laurence (67); our adopted brother Jim (67); Dympna (66), a retired nurse; former teacher Damian (65); Assumpta (55), a legal secretary, and publican Jenny (48).

Q You lost another brother at a young age.

A Gerard was killed in a motorbike accident outside Moira when he was 19. I was 21. It was a horrendous time.

It was a Saturday night in February and a phone call came to the house. My father and I went to the hospital in Lisburn to identify his body, but I didn’t go in. I really regret that. My father was a proper man that night. I wish I’d gone with him.

Q But that’s not the only young tragedy your dad suffered?

A No. He also lost his only brother Laurance at 19, who was blown up off the coast of Tenerife during the Second World War, and his oldest grandchild, my sister Elizabeth’s eldest son (Laurence), at 17.

Laurence went to Lourdes to help the sick, went for a swim and came home in a coffin. It was such a tragedy. Even speaking about it now is really difficult.

Q You went to Magheramesk Primary and St Patrick’s PS in Magheralin, finishing up at St Paul’s in Lurgan. What next?

A I left school at 15 and went straight into an apprenticeship at a public house (The Four Trees) in Moira, where I had the honour to work with its owner, the best publican ever, Paddy Swale. An absolute genius.

I think he was the first man ever to bring food into a public house.

I stayed there until I was 22, then worked with my father in Tennent’s Distillers for a year. In 1975-76 the family bought The Liverpool Bar on Donegall Quay, Belfast, where I stayed for eight years.

I went into The Kitchen in 1982 and had to give it up in 2007 due to the development of Victoria Square. We transferred the licence and opened a new Kitchen Bar, but I only stayed in it for about 18 months.

I took it easy for a couple of years, then helped run the parish centre at St Patrick’s Church in Lisburn.

Q You fought for years to stop the famous Kitchen Bar being demolished by the developers. Tell us about that.

AI really thought we could have kept the (original) bar, but they’d made up their minds.

I spent three years trying to save it but, ultimately, I had to make the best move for me.

It’s a pity it was knocked down. It was a beautiful bar, going back to 1857.

Q Legend has it that it took an eye-watering amount of money for you to give up the fight over the bar, with a free apartment and other perks thrown in for good measure. How much of that is actually true?

A. A compulsory purchase order is a very blunt tool, so I had to try to negotiate the best deal possible.

In the end there was a penthouse apartment for my mother, a financial settlement and the ‘transfer’ of the building.

They bought the bricks and mortar but not the business, so we got the new Kitchen Bar, which is still situated at Victoria Square.

They paid for all of the transfer of the licences, top-class architects, the fit out, everything. It was millions… single-figure millions.

Q How come you gave up the new Kitchen Bar?

A I’d lost what I’d been used to. I wasn’t a publican who ran a bar from an office, but I was spending more time counting money and doing lodgements.

It’s a great bar and a great site, but for me it lost its soul.

I’m glad I’m out of it. My life changed completely and it’s brilliant. I love my life now.

Q Have you any Troubles-related tales about the bar?

A The original Kitchen Bar was busy from the moment it opened. All the food was fresh, local Ulster produce, and good value too.

We didn’t write down customers’ names or where they sat, so when they came up to pay they told us what they’d had, because we were so busy.

When people had to evacuate because of bomb scares, it was eerie because the food and drink was left on the tables. We weren’t even allowed to lift the money out of the till. And when bombs went off there was always damage — the windows came in and had to be boarded up. We were always trying to get back up and running as quick as possible.

Q What kind of clientele did you have?

A In those days Belfast was busy during the day but not at night. The customers were from all over. They wanted to drink in a neutral environment. 

At the height of the Troubles that little oasis give them that peace and reassurance they needed.

Discussing religion wasn’t allowed. You left your baggage at the door. We had everyone from solicitors, barristers and high court judges to street workers and newspaper sellers. Everyone was treated exactly the same.

Q You met your fair share of diplomats and negotiators during the peace process. Who stood out?

A Jean Kennedy Smith (JFK’s sister), US Ambassador to Ireland. I got people from both communities to talk to her. Those meetings took place in the Kitchen Bar before Bill Clinton came here in 1995.

There was a strong rumour that the US President was going to come for a pint after switching on the Christmas lights.

I had the world’s Press in and the Guinness was flying.

There was a flashing light in Cornmarket and they all rushed out thinking it was Clinton’s limousine — only to be met by a Belfast bin cart.

Q What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve been given?

A My mother always said a shut mouth is a wise head.

Q And what about religion? Do you believe in God?

A I do, and it’s a challenging faith. I go to Mass every Sunday, and sometimes I go to church. My sons-in-law are not of the same faith as me.

Q Have you ever lost any close friends?

A  A good friend died by suicide in 1989. He had a nine-year-old boy. I later discovered he didn’t have the money to buy him a present. I’d have given him the money. It nearly wrecked me. He was 41.

Another friend (aged 67) whose partner had died told me he was going to throw himself in the Lagan.

I tried to persuade him to stay, but he left. A pair of shoes was found. His body wasn’t discovered until three days afterwards.

Q If you were in trouble, who is the one person you would you turn to?

A That would definitely be my wife.

Q Your adopted brother Jim (67) was recently spared jail for assaulting a child. Was that a dark time for you personally? Are you still in contact with him?

A  I try to be protective of him but we have to think of the victim. We’ve got together as a family and we have thought about the young girl, who’s now a woman. We all think of her and pray for her.

As a family we felt a sense of shame when we found out what had happened, although we’d no control over it.

We didn’t know anything about it; it came as a complete shock. Jim was out of our lives for a long time; maybe 30 years.

It happened a long time ago. He admitted it. Not in Jim’s defence, but he’s a chronic alcoholic — and now a recluse.

I haven’t turned my back on him; I see him from time to time.

I spoke to Jim about what he did and how wrong that was; he understood that.

I don’t think you really can understand it when that comes home to you. It’s there but we have to try and manage it and try to live through it. I find it very difficult and I’m quite angry with Jim.

Q What’s your greatest achievement?

A I’m really happy with my life. I thank the Lord. I sometimes pinch myself when I think about how well things have worked out. There’s an angel on my side.

Q If there was one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be?

A I’d love to be able to say no.

Q What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

A That would be buying a bar during the Troubles.

Q Tell us something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

A. I sang in a little boyband called Friends when I was young.

Q You were elected to Lisburn Council in 2011 and again in 2014 and took a seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2017. Why politics?

A I felt it was my duty to represent the people I grew up with.

Q Which politician from the so-called ‘other side’ do you most admire?

A I’ve a lot of time for UUP MLA Robbie Butler — he’s a snazzy dresser.

I like his politics, and I have voted for him.

Q How do you relax outside politics?

A I spend time with family, and still have great friends from when I was young. We still go for a jar on Friday nights and for meals in each others’ houses.

Q Who’s your best Protestant friend?

A. I don’t look at anyone as Catholic or Protestant — or atheist.

Q If the Assembly collapses, what’s next?

A I would like to do some more charity work.

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