15 April 2005

Belfast Telegraph

Bar murder question for SF
'How many members were in pub?'

By Chris Thornton
15 April 2005

Sinn Fein were told today to own up to how many members of their party were in Magennis's bar on the night Robert McCartney was murdered.

SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell made the call after it emerged that Sinn Fein members made up more than a tenth of the 70 people in the bar when IRA members took part in the fatal attack on Mr McCartney and a friend.

A handful of people have resigned from Sinn Fein as a result of their suspensions over their murder, the party has confirmed.

A Sinn Fein spokesman has said that "one or two" people had left the party after being suspended pending the investigation into the attack, although information released by Sinn Fein indicates at least three have resigned.

Six Sinn Fein members remain in suspension, the party said.

That means more than a tenth of the 70-strong crowd in the Magennis's Whiskey Cafe when the attack began were Sinn Fein members at the time.

But a party spokesman said it was not known how many of its members were in the bar.

Dr McDonnell said it is now incumbent on Sinn Fein to say how many of its members were in the bar.

"They need to let us know exactly how many people in the bar were members of Sinn Fein," he said.

Yesterday it emerged that the party's two intended council candidates who were in the bar on January 30, the night of the killing, have been placed among those suspended.

Sinn Fein Councillor Joe O'Donnell said Deirdre Hargey and Cora Groogan were not included in the party's final list of council candidates because "anyone suspended cannot stand as a candidate".

Those two were not among the seven people initially suspended by the party on March 3.

Ms Hargey spoke at the party's ard fheis on March 5, two days after the suspensions were announced.

Sinn Fein had intended to run her as a council candidate in South Belfast, while Ms Groogan was reportedly meant to run in Castlereagh.

The two women were not among the seven names of party members in the bar passed to Sinn Fein by the McCartney family. Paula McCartney, one of the murder victim's sisters, said the family only learned on Wednesday that Ms Hargey, who works for the Markets Development Association, had been suspended. Their suspensions are at least the eighth and ninth confirmed by the party, suggesting at least three people have left Sinn Fein.

Former Sinn Fein councillor Sean Hayes was also later revealed to be in the bar. His name was not among the seven passed to Sinn Fein by the McCartneys, but Sinn Fein have not indicated whether he has been suspended.

Both Ms Groogan and Ms Hargey have reportedly made statements about events around the killing to their solicitors. Those statements were then passed to the Police Ombudsman, who passed them to the PSNI. Police sources have indicated that those statements have little or no evidential value, indicating that they do not deal with the murder. The McCartneys say Ms Groogan gave a fuller account of events in the presence of a taxi driver on the night of the murder.

Meanwhile, the McCartneys say they intend to go ahead with a vigil at the scene of the murder on Sunday at 3pm, in spite of threats made to them on Wednesday.

The sisters of Mr McCartney and his fiancee, Bridgeen Hagans, said they were distributing leaflets about the vigil in the Short Strand area of Belfast on Wednesday.

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