The Provisional IRA has said it will not protect any republican alleged to have been involved in the death of a Belfast man earlier this month.

The stabbing of Robert McCartney in a Belfast pub fight on January 30 has generated controversy beyond the strongly republican Short Strand area of east Belfast.

Mr McCartney was stabbed to death and a companion was injured after a fight broke out and appeared to snowball at Magennis’s bar.

Relatives of the deceased have claimed that the IRA has sought to prevent PSNI police identifying the killers and have also alleged that one or more members of the IRA were involved.

The PSNI last week said that the IRA was not responsible for Mr McCartney’s death. However, their attempts to search homes in the republican enclave were resisted by local residents, prompting allegations of an IRA ‘cover-up’.

The McCartney family has called for residents to support the police in the matter and have said they want to see the accused men tried in court. This has exacerbated tensions with those republicans who support the family but oppose the British police and judicial system.

In a statement on Wednesday night, the IRA said: “We wish to extend our sympathy to the McCartney family for the loss of Robert and for the grief that they are suffering.

“The IRA was not involved in the brutal killing of Robert McCartney.

“Those who were involved must take responsibility for their own actions, which run contrary to republican ideals.

“It has been reported that people are being intimidated or prevented from assisting the McCartney family in their search for truth and justice.

“We wish to make it absolutely clear that no one should hinder or impede the McCartney family in their search for truth and justice. Anyone who can help the family in this should do so.”

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said that no one involved in the killing acted as a republican or on behalf of republicans.

“I repudiate this brutal killing in the strongest terms possible. No one has any right, as has been claimed, to prevent anyone from helping the McCartney family. “

The dead man’s sister Paula said people were reluctant to come forward with information.

“It’s a taboo subject, no one is allowed to speak about it,” she said.

Mr McCartney’s fiancee and mother of his two children, Bridgeen Hagans, says she was shocked.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “I thought once someone kills someone the police got them and that was it, especially when they know who they are.”

Sinn Fein policing and justice spokesperson Gerry Kelly said that attempts had been made to turn the incident into “a political football about Sinn Fein’s position on policing. This will not assist the McCartney family. The family know our position on policing.

“Our position is clear - People with reservations about assisting the PSNI should give any information they might have either to the family, a solicitor or any other authoritative or reputable person or body.”

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