Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams today insisted republicans were unified over the Robert McCartney murder, despite being harangued on the election campaign trail.
Family members of some men linked to the IRA killing shouted abuse at him as he canvassed in one of his party’s Belfast strongholds.
Mr Adams said: “I was barracked by some women who obviously disagree with the stand our party has taken in terms of the murder of Robert McCartney.
“Particularly my call for people to come forward with full and frank statements, and also when I gave names that were given to me to the Police Ombudsman.”
The Sinn Féin leadership has faced unrelenting pressure ever since Mr McCartney, a 33-year-old forklift driver, was stabbed and beaten to death following a city centre pub brawl in January.
With the victim’s sisters fighting a campaign for justice that has taken them to the White House, Sinn Féin says it has expelled two party members for not following Mr Adams’ orders to disclose what they saw in Magennis’ bar where the fight first broke out.
Another four have quit while a further half dozen remain suspended until internal party deliberations are completed.
So far Sinn Féin has been unable to confirm if the two ousted members were among three IRA men ordered out of the paramilitary organisation because of their involvement in the killing.
The confrontation in the Markets area of south Belfast, close to the scene of the knifing, came yesterday as Mr Adams canvassed alongside former Belfast mayor Alex Maskey.
But the Sinn Féin president stressed that the “vast majority” of republicans were behind his attempt to flush out the killers.
He said: “We weren’t talking yesterday about activists, we’re talking about women family members of some of the people who have been caught up in all of this.
“I can understand their position. The big focus, clearly and quite rightly, is on the murder of Robert McCartney, but there are lots of families traumatised by the fallout of this and lots of people feel they have been demonised and their community has been demonised.
“When I went to the Markets it was no great surprise that there would be a protest by some people there.”
The West Belfast MP also appeared to dismiss claims that one of the chief suspects thrown out of the IRA for the murder has since resumed his position within the organisation.
“If the IRA say they expelled members, then they expelled members,” Mr Adams insisted.
“I have no reason, no evidence at all, that would make anybody disbelieve what the IRA has done.”