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'Family man' Partner of INLA man James McWilliams says kids were trolled after his sudden death

In the aftermath of James' death his 14-year-old daughter was trolled online with the message "I hope your daddy burns in hell."

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Nichola O'Neill speaks to the Sunday World

Nichola O'Neill speaks to the Sunday World

Nichola O'Neill speaks to the Sunday World

The partner of an INLA man whose paramilitary funeral sparked a police row tells the Sunday World this week how her children were trolled after his death.

Little more than a week after the death by a suspected heart attack of prominent republican James McWilliams, Nicola O'Neill said she and the couple's five children were struggling to come to terms with their loss.

INLA man McWilliams died aged 37 at his home in Newtownabbey, north Belfast, 10 days ago.

In the aftermath of James' death his 14-year-old daughter was trolled online with the message "I hope your daddy burns in hell."

Nicola told the Sunday World: "I didn't want her to hear or read anything like that - her big brother James, took the phone off her and blocked those social media sites.

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James McWilliams with Nicola and their five children

James McWilliams with Nicola and their five children

James McWilliams with Nicola and their five children

 

"The reality is no matter what, James was a human being, his children are human beings, and that's just it."

She added: "I haven't been in our bedroom since, because that's where he died, I sleep on the sofa and my eldest son sleeps on the sofa beside me.

"I can't even go into the bathroom, I shower in my friend's house down the street because everything upstairs reminds me of him, his things in the bathroom - I can't do it."

A row erupted after a masked man in paramilitary uniform was filmed firing shots over McWilliams' coffin at his funeral in west Belfast. Police responded to demands to investigate the paramilitary display by saying they believed the footage may be old.

The PSNI said it had received no reports of gunfire at the August 11 funeral. The Sunday World has spoken to a senior member of the terror group who has confirmed shots were fired.

"There's no controversy," he said, "I heard and I seen the shots that were fired."

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James McWilliams dressed in paramilitary garb

James McWilliams dressed in paramilitary garb

James McWilliams dressed in paramilitary garb

 

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Nicola is aware of James' reputation as a member of the INLA, but for her it is the loss of the man who looked after her and helped her cope with a number of health issues including fibromyalgia.

She says she has suffered panic attacks every day since his death.

She is appalled that their family home searched by Special Branch as his body was being returned to be waked.

McWilliams was frequently detained and arrested by the police - believed to be 20 times in the last six years - but has never faced criminal charges.

Meanwhile, Nicola has five children at home - the youngest 10 months old - all struggling to come to terms with their father's sudden death.

She herself has been unable to sleep in the room where he died, and where he lay for 10 hours as their home was sealed off.

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A masked man appears to fire shots over his coffin at his funeral

A masked man appears to fire shots over his coffin at his funeral

A masked man appears to fire shots over his coffin at his funeral

 

Nicola and James were childhood sweethearts they had their first child when she was 19.

"I always thought I was too young but now I'm glad we had our children so early as we didn't realise how short a time we had, and we shared all our kids - all five.

"Our last baby A'vaih, she's only 10 months, I have health issues and he was such a hands-on dad, he would put the baby up to bed, he fed her, bathed her dressed her and he took her to bed with him until she fell asleep.

"He was the best dad in the world, he loved us, he loved me and he did every single thing for us. We have beautiful children because of him."

Her loss is as painful today as it was when he passed, she misses him every minute.

"James would take our baby to bed I would come up later, waiting for my pain relief medication to kick in, he would wake up pull me over and say to me 'come on and I'll give you a snuggle' or else he would tickle my back."

She acknowledges his reputation as a hardened paramilitary, but she added: "The world he held me in, he held me close, kept me safe and nobody can ever ever replace him, he was my rock, he did everything for me, and the kids, he was dedicated to us and to his party the IRSP.

"I know his reputation, of people being afraid of him, but in the house he was very shy, he was a family man, when I wasn't well he took control. I thought I was worthless, not being able to do the things mummies should do but he stepped up and told me I was the best mother."

Nicola's world came crashing down last week. She said she will never replace James but it's only her big son who is keeping her afloat.

"It breaks my heart to think when he died, he sent me upstairs and said he would look after the kids, he went to our daughter's room, our son's room and then I heard a big bang."

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Nicola O’Neill at IRSP headquarters in Belfast this week

Nicola O’Neill at IRSP headquarters in Belfast this week

Nicola O’Neill at IRSP headquarters in Belfast this week

 

She rushed in to find her sweat-soaked partner slumped on the floor. She immediately dialled 999.

As her nine-year-old and four-year-old ran to a neighbour's as she tried to haul James to the recovery position. She was screaming down the phone.

"I couldn't feel a pulse, I was screaming at him, 'don't do this to me again, don't do this to me again".

Eleven years ago James was stabbed in the neck in a random attack and was not expected to pull through - there was to be no miracle recovery this time round.

"They were the worst words I ever heard when the paramedic say, 'I'm sorry we can't do anything else".

The house was immediately sealed off by police. James lay there for 10 hours, Nicola and her family were prevented from seeing him. The priest was denied entry to anoint him, she claims.

"It traumatised us all, his brother couldn't even go upstairs to say goodbye. I wanted to go and hug him, kiss him, not one single one of us could, we couldn't get in, we asked the police and they said no."

Days later as they prepared to receive James' remains back to the house, the PSNI launched a search of their home.

"James was due to be home, we had to keep his body away from the house for four hours so I could clean the mess they left, four Special Branch cars came to the house and searched it, why not do it when he was there for 10 hours?

"In my opinion my husband to be was harassed in life because of his beliefs and I always stood by him, it turns out he was harassed in death."

Nicola would like to clarify that rumours circulating on social media that James had been shot, stabbed and taken his own life are completely untrue.

James was laid to rest in the INLA's republican plot in Milltown. 

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