Northern Ireland

IRA charges after Robert McCartney family campaign

Robert McCartney Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Robert McCartney was murdered outside a Belfast bar in 2005

Two men who allegedly represented the IRA during meetings with the sisters of Belfast murder victim Robert McCartney are to stand trial for IRA membership.

Padraic Wilson and Sean Hughes are not charged over the murder but with events during the sisters' fight for justice.

The McCartneys led an international campaign after the 2005 murder.

Mr Wilson, from west Belfast, and Mr Hughes, from County Armagh, allegedly met Mr McCartney's family to discuss how his IRA killers would be punished.

Mr McCartney, 33, was stabbed to death outside Magennis's bar in Belfast, close to his home, in January 2005. IRA members were suspected of involvement in the killing.

'Bullet'

At Belfast Magistrates' Court on Friday, it was claimed Mr Wilson and Mr Hughes told the McCartneys they were speaking on behalf of the IRA's so-called army council and were carrying out an "internal investigation" into the murder.

Both men now face charges of belonging to a proscribed organisation and addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA.

When the pair appeared before Belfast Magistrates' Court to establish if they have a case on answer, it was alleged that they met the McCartney family twice in the weeks after the murder - in February and March 2005.

It was alleged that during one of the meetings, Mr Wilson told Mr McCartney's sister Paula Arnold that he would like to seen the killers "get a bullet in the head".

The victim's family were also informed that the IRA "investigation" had established the knife used in the stabbing had been ground down.

'Church meetings'

The sisters claimed that a high-profile Sinn Féin politician was involved in arranging for them to meet members of the IRA shortly after the killing.

Two of the sisters gave evidence that their first meeting with the alleged IRA representatives took place at Clonard Monastery in the west of the city and lasted for up to five hours.

A second, shorter, encounter allegedly took place at the Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne, north Belfast.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The McCartney sisters and Robert McCartney's fiancee Bridgeen Hagans met presidents and prime ministers during their worldwide campaign

Mr McCartney's sister Paula Arnold told the court two men entered the first meeting, introduced themselves as Padraic and Sean, said they were sorry for what had happened to their brother and were carrying out an internal investigation on behalf of the IRA.

According to Mrs Arnold, the pair said they had established that one man had obtained a knife from the kitchen in Magennis's bar, wrapped it in a towel and passed it to a second man who then "used it" before returning it to the first man for disposal, the court heard.

The sisters were allegedly told that while the meeting was taking place, a suspect in the killing was being "interrogated" by the IRA.

"I did ask could the knife not be handed over to police and they informed us the knife had been ground down," Mrs Arnold said.

'Protected'

It was claimed the McCartneys were told a senior IRA man who was at the bar on the night of the killing was to be 'stood-down', or court-martialled, for six months.

"I was told it was because he failed to prevent what happened that night," Mrs Arnold said.

During the first meeting a discussion took place about shooting those responsible for the murder, it was claimed.

Mrs Arnold alleged: "Padraic had said if he had his way he would have liked to have seen them get a bullet in the head.

"Then he said 'but it's not easy to kill a man'."

She told the court that speaking in frustration and the heat of the moment one of her sisters, Donna, replied: "Give me a gun and I will do it."

Both Mrs Arnold and another sister who gave evidence, Catherine McCartney, said they had not known the two alleged IRA representatives' surnames.

It was only years later, through newspapers and internet research, that they claimed to have discovered their identities and gone to police.

Catherine McCartney told the court they were informed by the two men that the IRA were "interviewing the witnesses and members of the IRA who were there that night in the bar".

She claimed to have challenged the pair about her belief that those involved were being protected.

Priest

"I think Padraic then said he wasn't protecting them, he would shoot them in the morning. He didn't mean that he would offer to, he meant it figuratively," she told the court.

According to her account, a priest was present during the second meeting.

"He said we were to consider him as part of the wallpaper, that he was there to give assurances," Ms McCartney claimed.

The judge ruled that a prima facie case to answer was established against both accused men.

Mr Wilson, of Hamill Park, Andersonstown in the west of the city, and Mr Hughes, from Aghavadoyle Road in Jonesborough, County Armagh, were returned for a Crown Court trial on a date to be fixed.

The pair were released on bail until the hearing begins.