Sinn Fein’s new mayor of Belfast has insisted a controversy over one of the city’s most notorious murders will not overshadow her elevation to first citizen.
In 2005 Deirdre Hargey was dropped as a prospective election candidate and temporarily suspended from the party when it emerged she was in a city centre bar on the night a fracas erupted that ended with the murder of Robert McCartney on a pavement outside.
The murder of the 33-year-old Belfast father-of-two, which was widely blamed on IRA members, rocked Northern Ireland’s fragile peace process, coming as it did at a time when Sinn Fein was under pressure to sign up to support the police in the region.
With CCTV video tapes stolen from Magennis’s bar in the wake of the killing, and widespread reports of witness intimidation, the republican movement was accused of covering up the murder and attempted murder of Mr McCartney’s friend.
Of the 70 or so people in the bar that night, no-one reported seeing anything of the fracas.
Mr McCartney’s sisters embarked on a high-profile campaign for justice that took them all the way to the White House in Washington DC.
Ms Hargey did not directly engage with detectives at the time but made statements to a solicitor insisting she saw nothing of the row inside Magennis’s that ultimately spilled outside and ended in murder.
Thirteen years on, as it was confirmed she was Sinn Fein’s chosen candidate as the city’s new lord mayor, the 38-year-old politician from the republican Markets area insisted she did all she could to help the McCartney family achieve justice.
“I want to take this opportunity to again extend my sincere condolences to the McCartney family,” she told the Press Association.
“What happened to their brother Robert was wrong, it should not have happened.
I complied fully with the investigation
“I complied fully with the investigation and I am conscious that there is an ongoing investigation that is still live into this case. But the family do deserve justice.”
Ms Hargey said the police had never asked to interview her upon receipt of her statements.
Indicating her willingness to talk to detectives if they wished her to, she urged anyone with information to come forward.
“My main concern is to ensure the family receives justice and I feel that needs to be done through the PSNI and I do feel that any information around incidents pertaining to that night needs to be done through those avenues and I would be open to doing that, as I have done in the past,” she said.
“I am aware there is an ongoing investigation and I wouldn’t want to prejudice that in any way, but what I would say is that if the PSNI or anyone else needs me in terms of helping in that investigation then I will do so.”
The councillor denied any suggestion of being part of any alleged cover up.
“Certainly not, most certainly not,” she said.
“I do think I have fully complied with the investigation.
“I have always been open to fully complying with the investigation and would call on everyone else to do the same.
“If they have any information they need to take it to the authorities for them to investigate, and to ensure that due process happens and justice is returned to the family.”
Asked if she was concerned the issue would define her appointment as mayor, she said: “No. I offer my condolences, my thoughts are with the McCartney family at this time and I do hope they do see justice.”