Sinn Fein has “created a monster” by allowing dissident republicans to gain hold of a Belfast neighbourhood where a man was shot to death.
That was the claim from senior DUP figure Nelson McCausland last night, as it was revealed that a leading dissident figure had been arrested by police probing the death of Michael McGibbon on Friday.
Both DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and her Sinn Fein deputy Martin McGuinness issued a statement on Monday condemning the killers for having shown “complete contempt” for the community where the gun attack took place.
The man who was arrested on Sunday – Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective spokesman Dee Fennell – was released unconditionally on Monday afternoon.
Mr McGibbon, 33, was shot a number of times in the leg in an alleyway at about 10pm and died of his injuries (see below).
Police said the attack bears hallmarks of paramilitary involvement, but did not name any specific group – though it is probable that dissident republicans are to blame.
Ex-social development minister Mr McCausland said he has seen a number of Ardoyne-based constituents come to him over the years for help moving out of the area, with the most recent one about two months ago.
He said: “There are people I’m aware of, families I’m aware of, who’ve moved out of Ardoyne because of the presence of paramilitarism, and the general tone of the area.
“It’s a mixture. They tend to be younger people, and people maybe who mix with and socialise with people from the Protestant community as well. That’s not necessarily accepted well by some of the locals.”
Asked what he feels the future may hold for the area, he said: “I think Sinn Fein have created a mindset and a narrative around Ardoyne that is going to take a lot of time now, a longer-term process, to defuse. Because they created a monster that they now find is turning on themselves.”
It has been claimed that “parades, policing and prisons” are the main issues drawing people towards hardline republicanism.
He added: “The things they [Sinn Fein] used as issues, they now find are much more beneficial for the dissidents.”
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly (North Belfast MLA until the Assembly was dissolved) said: “This is the second such killing carried out in this area in the last six months by an armed gang which is clearly at war with the local community...
“There is a need for the entire community, and all its representatives to unite in condemnation of these criminals instead of Nelson McCausland engaging in cheap political point scoring.”
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt also condemned the killing, as did TUV leader Jim Allister.
However, Mr Allister noted that at the time of Kevin McGuigan’s murder by republicans in 2015, Mrs Foster has said Sinn Fein and the IRA were “inextricably linked”.
He questioned how Mr McGuinesses’ comments on this more recent slaying could therefore be “taken seriously”.
MURDER VICTIM WAS AIDED BY WIFE:
The PSNI said Mr McGibbon was not believed to be associated with criminals, and he had never been convicted of a crime.
On UTV news on Monday night, priest Gary Donegan said Mr McGibbon – a taxi driver and father of four – had gone out to meet his assailants on the night he died.
“He said goodbye to her [his wife Joanne], said goodbye to the kids and he went early in the hope he could have a conversation with these people at this so-called appointment.”
His wife, a nurse, found him and “watched the oxygen leave him – she waited patiently until he went unconscious so she could start CPR.”
The victim was calling for his mother, he added.
FENNELL HAS WON OVER 800 VOTES:
The support for dissident republicans in north Belfast was evident in the 2014 council election.
The Oldpark district of Belfast – of which Ardoyne is a part – saw the highest proportion of dissident votes of the city’s 10 districts, according to www.ark.ac.uk .
When votes for Dee Fennell (846) and Republican Network for Unity’s Sammy Cusick (220) are taken together, they make up 10.1 per cent of all votes cast. This means that together the dissident pair drew the third-highest vote in the district, behind Sinn Fein (44.6 per cent) and the DUP (18.1 per cent).
Mr Fennell, 34, said in 2015 at an Easter Rising event that “armed struggle must be a contributory factor to a wider struggle” and that it remains a “legitimate act”.
He was charged, and pleaded not guilty to encouraging acts of terrorism, inviting support for the IRA and addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA.
He has been on bail since last June.