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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 17:07 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the Week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are the McCartney sisters (main picture), with Dame Kelly Holmes, Elizabeth Jagger, Billie Piper and Dan Rather.

The McCartney sisters

What began with a murder outside a Belfast bar has escalated into the biggest crisis faced by Irish Republicanism in recent years. But just why have Robert McCartney's five sisters made such a huge impact?

The facts, as far as they have already been established, make shocking reading.

On the evening of 30 January, a row in Magennis's, a bar in the Republican enclave of Short Strand in Belfast, ended with a 30-strong mob, which included a number of IRA members, attacking two men.

The McCartney sisters
The sisters, from left: Claire, Donna, Catherine, Paula and Gemma
Robert McCartney, a forklift truck driver and bodybuilder known to his family as Bert, was beaten and stabbed and later died of his appalling injuries. His friend Brendan Devine, ended up in hospital.

As the victims lay injured in the street, it is alleged that the crime scene was forensically cleaned by 12 or more IRA men.

Drinkers were instructed not to call the emergency services until the evidence had been removed and CCTV footage of the attack was destroyed.

Vigil

Belfast, though still divided on sectarian lines, clings to a rigid and longstanding code of "honour": keep your head down, keep your mouth shut.

The murder of Robert McCartney might have gone down as just another pub brawl gone wrong.

The killers, though, reckoned without the McCartney sisters.

In five weeks which, even by Ulster standards, have been remarkable, Paula, Donna, Gemma, Claire and Catherine McCartney, together with their brother's fiancée, Bridgeen Hagans, have mounted a formidable public campaign to bring their brother's killers to justice.

Robert McCartney
Murdered: Robert McCartney
Five days after the murder, the sisters held a candlelit vigil, attended by 600 people, to remember Robert and protest at the IRA cover-up.

Robert's funeral was attended by 1,000 mourners, many of whom spoke of their disgust at the IRA's actions. And graffiti saying "IRA scum out" has appeared in the Short Strand area, nominally a haven of Republicanism.

The McCartney sisters are successful, intelligent, articulate and resilient women. Gemma is a district nurse, Catherine teaches politics at a local college, Paula studies at Queen's University, Donna runs a gourmet sandwich shop and Claire is training to be a teacher.

They were born and raised in the shadow of sectarianism and violence. Even though their parents, a dressmaker and carpet-fitter, took the family on holiday during the traditional Protestant marching season in July, "the Troubles" still had a huge impact on their childhood.

IRA offer 'to shoot'

In Short Strand, a Catholic area in east Belfast surrounded by a sea of Protestantism, the IRA was often portrayed as the defender of the people, its fearless rebels evening-up the odds and protecting Catholics.

But today, things have changed. The community is split, with many people accusing the IRA of being little more than a criminal gang, which rules by intimidation and fear.

On a wider political scale, the McCartney murder, coupled with December's £26.5m raid on the Northern Bank and the IRA's continuing refusal to allow decommissioned weapons to be photographed, has seriously damaged both Sinn Fein's credibility in the Northern Ireland peace process.

And a recent poll suggests that 44% of Sinn Fein voters want the IRA to disband, although the events do not seem to have much hurt support for Sinn Fein among core working class constituency.

Though the Republican movement has attempted to bring about closure, by expelling members, conducting an investigation and, most chillingly of all, offering to shoot those it believes to be responsible, the sisters have remained resolute.

Children at a commemoration rally for Robert McCartney
Children join a rally to remember Robert McCartney
After meeting IRA representatives, the sisters said: "We want the investigation into Robert's murder to be conducted through due process. Only this will ensure people are held to account for their actions."

And they insist that they have no political agenda to grind, wanting only their day in court.

"What have we got to gain from damaging Sinn Fein, especially when we voted for them?" says Paula. "Robert's murderers were the ones who damaged Sinn Fein, so let's keep the blame where the blame belongs."

But, with Sinn Fein's star seemingly on the wane, it is the McCartney sisters, and not Gerry Adams, who will be at the White House in Washington on St Patrick's Day, when they are also expected to meet the Kennedy family and Senator Hillary Clinton.

And, back in Belfast, the hunt for the killers of Robert McCartney continues.


Honoured: Dame Kelly Holmes
Dame Kelly Holmes

Double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes has collected her latest honour from the Queen at Buckingham Palace. "The Queen said she was delighted to give me the honour and said the gold medals were a great achievement," said the 800m and 1500m Olympic champion. Currently recovering from a hamstring injury, Dame Kelly is due to return to the track when Great Britain takes on Russia and the United States at a meeting in Glasgow on 5 June.

Elizabeth Jagger: Court injunction
Elizabeth Jagger

Model Elizabeth Jagger, daughter of Mick, has won a temporary court injunction preventing further publication of CCTV footage showing her engaged in sexual activity. A tabloid newspaper had published a picture of Ms Jagger and Calum Best, son of legendary footballer George, making love just inside the front door of London's Kabaret Prophecy nightclub. Despite the paper's claim that the couple were interrupted three times, the judge declared they had "a legitimate expectation of privacy".

Billie Piper: New role
Billie Piper

Actress and singer Billie Piper revealed this week how Doctor Who star Christopher Ecclestone helped her through the trauma of her marriage breakdown. The 22-year-old, who's about to star as the Doctor's sidekick, Rose, in the latest series, split up with 38-year-old husband and media millionaire Chris Evans last year. But she doesn't blame her work for her failed marriage. It "would have happened in the end anyway," she says.

Dan Rather: Signed off
Dan Rather

Dan Rather, one of America's best known television news anchors, presented his final bulletin on Wednesday evening. Rather has presented the CBS Evening News for 24 years, the longest continuous tenure of any US network newscaster. Rather recently came under fire for a now-discredited report questioning President George W Bush's military service during the Vietnam War. His final broadcast came on the 24th anniversary of the day he replaced Walter Cronkite.

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Andrew Walker


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