Senior members of Mark Durkan’s SDLP helped arrange the McCartney family’s trip to Washington last week, it has been revealed.
The nationalist party is facing an uphill battle to contain advances by Sinn Féin in the British general election in six weeks time.
The party helped book the flight through a travel agency that is part-owned by Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP deputy leader, using credit he personally extended to the family.
Until now, the SDLP had denied helping with the family’s trip. The family have also insisted their campaign for justice in the death of their brother would not be used for political purposes.
Dr McDonnell, a partner in Arrow Travel, admitted he had given the McCartneys credit approval for the trip, but denied knowing an SDLP adviser had helped arrange it.
“I was contacted by the manager and asked if I would give the credit approval and I made a decision to do that.
“But I did not tell the McCartney family what to do. I didn’t know that Tim Attwood had anything to do with it,” he said.
The SDLP also used a former member of its youth wing to act as a press officer for the family during their St Patrick’s Day trip, it has emerged.
It is also understood that the Labour party in the 26 Counties has offered to channel funds to the McCartneys on behalf of an unnamed benefactor.
Catherine McCartney, a sister of Robert McCartney, said the family had been desperate for any help they could get.
“Sinn Féin and the SDLP are both fighting for the same nationalist votes but we aren’t interested in that. For us, it is about the campaign for Robert’s killers to be brought to justice.”
Ms McCartney has denied weekend media reports that the family had no money.
“We are not skint. I didn’t say that,’ said Ms McCartney. “The money we have been given will be used to pay for the trip. No one else but us is paying for it.”
Meanwhile, the family has decided to contest the local or general elections in May.
Paula McCartney said the family had decided that their energy would be best spent on the campaign for justice.
“If we went into the elections, our attention would be distracted by other issues,” she said.