Assembly members from across the North have made a united call for anyone with information on a sectarian attack on Derry man Paul McCauley almost five years ago to come forward to the PSNI.
The young Derry man remains in a vegetative state after he was attacked by a gang of up to 15 people while attending a barbecue at a house on Spencer Road in July 2006.
The Independent Monitoring Commission, the body which monitored paramilitary activity, later linked UDA elements to the attack.
To date, only one person has been charged in connection with the attack and Mr McCauley’s family have said they have been met with a “wall of silence” within the unionist community when trying to uncover the truth about what happened.
The call for fresh information was made during an adjournment debate at Stormont on Monday evening, secured by Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson.
The debate was attended by all Foyle MLAs, with the exception of DUP MLA William Hay, who was unable to take part because of Assembly protocol due to his role as Speaker. However, Mr Hay echoed the call for information outside the chamber.
Despite the fact that the debate did not begin until after 9pm, many MLAs stayed in the chamber for the debate, including regional development minister Conor Murphy and Justice minister David Ford.
Unusually for a local issue, several MLAs from outside the Foyle constituency also took part in the debate, including a number of Ulster Unionist and DUP members.
Ms Anderson told MLAs that the McCauley family visit Paul daily in hospital, reading to him and playing him music, but that he is only able to respond by blinking his eyes slowly.
Opening the debate, Ms Anderson paid tribute to the Paul McCauly’s parents, Jim and Cathy, for the way they have cared for their son since the attack and the way they have campaigner for those responsible to be brought to justice.
Ms Anderson also claimed those efforts have been hampered by sections of the unionist community withholding information from the police.
“15 people were involved in the attack and their identities are well known in their own community. They received help and assistance on the night of the attack and information has been withheld from the PSNI.
“Jim McCauley has made a direct appeal to those of influence within unionism to help break the wall of silence on that community.
“I wish that those who continue to protect those attackers could see the ongoing pain the McCauley family are enduring. I believe there is an onus on every one of us to encourage those with information to the attack to come forward,” she said.
Ms Anderson also said unionist communities in Derry have a responsibility to the McCauley family. “It would send out a positive message to the McCauley family and to the wider community in the Fountain if the leaders of unionism would join with us in that call. “Daryl Proctor, the only person convicted in connection with this attack to date, was given a reference by a leading community worker in the Fountain. That is a very negative message to send out,” she said.
The deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, John McCallister, said he would no difficulty calling on unionists in Derry to provide information to the PSNI.
Foyle SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey said; “Paul McCauley could have died as a result of his injuries and it is only the skilful hands of surgeons that prevented that. No one should be allowed to get away with attempted murder. There has been one teenager from the Fountain found guilty of grievous bodily harm. There are others out there who the family believe are finding some comfort in the unionist community in the Waterside. The McCauley family deserve justice.”
DUP Policing Board member and former police officer Jimmy Spratt said; “If anyone from the unionist community has any information whatsoever they should bring it to the PSNI. I want to put on record that as a Policing Board member I am supportive of any reinvestigation and will do whatever I can.”
Raymond McCartney welcomed the contribution of the unionist MLAs and said it would provide some reassurance to the McCauley family.
SDLP MLA Mary Bradley called on the justice minister to highlight the importance of the case to the PSNI and ensure the investigation is properly resourced.
Her party colleague Pól Callaghan also called on Proctor to provide information on the attackers. “There is an omerta of omission in terms of information on the attack not being brought forward from people in the community. Sectarianism has deprived Paul of a fulfilling life and deprived his family of special moments. I call on anyone, and I include Daryl Proctor in that to come forward,” he said.
UUP MLA Basil McCrea described the attack as “abhorrent.” “There is always a challenge when people speak the platitude that they would like people to come forward with more information. That can be very challenging for people; it is not an easy option. People worry about what the fallout might be for them. We, as politicians, have to try to find a way to create the conditions in which people can come forward and help, no matter how much they think they know,” he said.
Justice minister David Ford, responding to a question from Ms Anderson, said there are “clearly issues of concern” over why a charge of attempted murder was not proceeded with against Proctor. He also gave an undertaking to review the statute books to ensure the legislation is adequate.
The minister also provided the house with an update on the police investigation. “The case is being treated with the utmost seriousness.
“It is being dealt with by the most senior investigative authority in the PSNI, namely C2 serious crime branch, and the family are being kept informed of the progress of the investigation. I understand that they remain hopeful of further successful outcomes.”