Gerry Adams was harangued in a republican area of Belfast while canvassing in the British General Election because of his stance on the murder of father-of-two Robert McCartney, it was claimed today.
Sources said the Sinn Féin president and former Belfast mayor Alex Maskey faced criticism from some people in the south of the city for supporting the McCartney family’s demand for justice.
The confrontation took place in the Markets area, near the street where the 33-year-old forklift driver was brutally stabbed and beaten.
A man, who claimed to have witnessed the events, said: “Gerry Adams and Alex Maskey were confronted and barracked by several people about the stand they have taken.
“It was hot and heavy. The exchange of views was frank.”
Sinn Féin has in recent days confirmed two members of the party have been expelled for failing to follow Gerry Adams’ order to give a full statement about the killing.
The party has also said four other members have resigned following Mr Adams’ call for co-operation with the family, while another six remain suspended until Sinn Féin’s ruling executive meets.
The IRA has expelled three members over their involvement in the January 30 murder.
Robert McCartney was drinking with a friend, Brendan Devine, in Magennis’s bar, when a row broke out with republicans, resulting in violence.
He was killed outside the bar and Mr Devine was also seriously wounded.
Mr McCartney’s partner Bridgeen Hagans and his sisters Paula, Catherine, Claire, Donna and Gemma have condemned the wall of silence which has developed among the 70 people who were inside the bar.
Police investigating the murder have also reported those questioned about the murder have simply exercised their right to silence.
The McCartneys, who discussed the case with US President George W Bush in the White House last month, have also been critical of Sinn Féin’s handling of their demand for the murder suspects to face the allegations in court.
Because of Sinn Féin’s refusal to recognise the Police Service of Northern Ireland as the legitimate police force, the party has instead urged republicans and other witnesses to pass on information through their solicitors to the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan.
However the family believe statements should not be made through solicitors but directly to the police or Ombudsman’s team because they have the necessary investigative skills for a case.
It also emerged last month that former Sinn Féin councillor Sean Hayes, ex-Assembly candidate Cora Groogan, and another member, Deirdre Hargey, were among those drinking in Magennis’s.
Sinn Féin withdrew plans to run Ms Hargey and Ms Groogan as local government election candidates on May 5 following the disclosures.
A party spokesman refused to comment on the reports of the confrontation in the Markets area yesterday.
However he said Mr Adams’ position on support for the family’s quest for justice was well known, as were the party’s views on what republicans caught up in the events should do.
Catherine McCartney responded cautiously to the reports.
She told PA: “If people are criticising Sinn Féin for supporting the family, I have to say we have some criticism of how the party handled this too.
“They did not act quickly enough, decisively enough or efficiently against members.
“It should not have taken almost three months to expel them now, or even suspend members. It should have happened in the first few weeks.
“That is what any other political party would have done.”