Commentary (The Times)

Northern Ireland: “McCartney sisters boycott awards to avoid Thatcher” (Irish Republican protest)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 4 November 2005
Journalist: Ben Hoyle, The Times
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 380 words
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Northern Ireland

McCartney sisters boycott awards to avoid Thatcher

By Ben Hoyle

THEY won the world’s respect for standing up to the IRA after their brother’s murder, but yesterday the McCartney sisters’ Irish republican values compelled them to snub Baroness Thatcher.

Claire and Catherine McCartney had travelled to London from Belfast to accept an Outstanding Achievement Award at the 50th Women of the Year awards in recognition of their and their three sisters’ tireless pursuit of their brother’s killers, along with his fiancée.

But yesterday they learnt that they would be expected to share a stage with Lady Thatcher, who was receiving a lifetime achievement award, and decided not to accept it. They said in a statement: “Our campaign is one of justice and as an Irish republican family we feel we cannot share a platform with a former prime minister who inflicted injuries on our country.”

Lady Thatcher is still hated by many Northern Irish republicans for her uncompromising policies in the Province during her 11 years in office.

The sisters’ brother Robert, 33, a forklift driver, was stabbed, kicked and beaten to death in January by a gang that included known IRA members. Unlike many bereaved families in their working-class Roman Catholic neighbourhood in Belfast, the sisters spoke out against the IRA and its political wing Sinn Fein and accused local IRA men of intimidating potential witnesses.

Their courageous campaign struck a chord around the world, putting the IRA under pressure and earning the sisters and Mr McCartney’s fiancée an invitation to the White House for St Patrick’s Day.

In the sisters’ absence the ceremony at Guildhall continued as normal in front of an audience including Maureen Lipman , Esther Rantzen , Sheila Hancock and Sue MacGregor .

Presenting the award to the sisters in absentia, the hostess, Sandi Toksvig , said: “I think everybody knows that political passions run extremely deep in Northern Ireland and that is why they are not here.”

Lady Thatcher made no mention of the McCartney sisters’ decision to boycott the ceremony because of her presence. She had tears in her eyes as she accepted her Lifetime Achievement Award. She said: “Thank you very much for this wonderful gift which brings back memories of five or six years at No 10.”

Claire Bertschinger, the nurse whose field work in Ethiopia inspired Bob Geldof to organise Live Aid in 1985, was awarded the Pilkington Women of the Year Window to the World Award. She went on to work in many other troubled areas and recently wrote a book about her experiences.

The American singer Tina Turner , who survived a notoriously brutal marriage, received the award for Woman of the Year 2005.

She said: “I have not wanted to receive honours before because I have not wanted to talk about my past or think about it but now I am proud of it because it has given a lot of people a lot of help.”