Media frenzy as McCartney trial ends

The case of a fatal stabbing outside a republican bar, and a subsequent media campaign which reached the White House, ended this week in a Belfast courtroom.

The non-jury trial of three east Belfast men charged in relation to the fight, including one who was charged with murder, ended this week with all three being acquitted.

The case stems from a row which began with a rude gesture in Magennis’s Bar in January 2005 and ended in a drunken brawl and a knife-fight, in which a number of people were stabbed, and one, Robert McCartney, died.

The sisters of the dead man immediately blamed the Provisional IRA for his death, and confronted Sinn Féin, who they accused of covering up the identity of those involved.

Although those allegations wer denied, their campaign attracted massive media attention and financial assistance from the rival political SDLP. Amid the furore, and at a difficult time in the peace process, the Provisional IRA came under pressure to disband.

In an unprecedented five-page statement, the Provisional IRA outlined its understanding of the events of the night, including the admission that two of its members had been involved. It expelled three members, and even offered to shoot the guilty parties, an offer which the McCartney sisters declined.

However, following the end of the trial, Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA were again accused by the family of “obstructing the course of justice”.

In excess of 30 journalists, backed up by scores of photographers and cameramen waiting in the rain outside, had descended upon Laganside courthouse in Belfast to hear the verdict.

The sisters promised not to let things rest despite it having “become an embarrassment to the British and Irish governments”.

In response, Sinn Féin said it had “consistently supported the McCartney family in their campaign for justice”.

“We have urged people with any information to bring it forward to the PSNI and will continue to do so,” a party spokesman said.

“It is clear from both the trial evidence and statements from the police that a large number of witnesses have come forward.

“This is a criminal matter which needs to be dealt with by the police and the courts.”

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