How many more men like Pearse McAuley are living amongst us?
Sinn Fein pretend it's not their problem, but they know how dangerous former IRA killers can be
Published 06/12/2015 | 02:30
When is a psychopath not a psychopath? When he's doing it for Ireland. That seems to be Sinn Fein's attitude to former IRA member Pearse McAuley.
When he was killing Garda Jerry McCabe during a botched raid in Co Limerick in 1996, he was a patriot and they were prepared to stand by him till the bitter end. When taking part in all the other shady activities on behalf of the republican movement, at home and abroad, he was one of the good guys.
When he stabbed his former wife 13 times with a steak knife last Christmas Eve in front of their children, McAuley became persona non grata. Last week, SF acted as if they didn't know him, as if he was a stranger, rather than an honoured comrade. There were no apologias from Gerry Adams. There will be no standing ovation for him at the next SF ard fheis, as there was in 2003.
It isn't that his erstwhile friends object to him because he's a violent man. They already knew that. McAuley simply made the mistake of attacking someone who wasn't a so-called "legitimate target".
The details of the attack on Pauline Tully are harrowing. The IRA man held her captive for over two hours, kicking her so hard that her lungs filled up with blood. All this happened in front of their two children, aged seven and four. One boy still has nightmares in which he sees his father coming into his bedroom carrying the mother's severed head.
McAuley pleaded guilty and last week was sentenced at Cavan Circuit Criminal Court to 12 years in prison, with the final four suspended.
That prompted some hostile comment. Taking into account time already served, McAuley could be out again within five years, which many might consider unduly lenient, especially considering the fact that he had previously served 10 years for what is officially called the "manslaughter" of Garda McCabe.
The reason for the suspension of the last four years was because of certain mitigating circumstances, including, in the judge's words, "what I accept is genuine remorse for his behaviour" and the fact that he is an exemplary prisoner.
This, however, is exactly how one would expect a psychopath to behave - doing what needs to be done in order to get the desired result. Self-interest and deception are core characteristics of such men.
A Canadian study found that prisoners with psychopathic tendencies were more than twice as likely to secure conditional release than fellow prisoners because they were able to convince others they were no longer a danger.
Having done so, they were then back behind bars within an average of one year after committing further offences.
The best tool for predicting how someone will behave in the future is how they've behaved in the past. Those who have committed previous violent offences are statistically much more likely to commit more of them in the future.
Pearse McAuley has lived a life dominated by episodes of extreme violence. It's naïve to believe that a 50-year-old man with such a personal history will change at any point soon.
There are protections built in. Should he commit any further offences on being released, he will be immediately returned to jail to serve the remaining four years of his sentence; but of course, by then it may be too late, as it almost was for his ex-wife. She was lucky. Surviving this incident did not seem likely to her, as her powerful victim impact statement made clear. Garda McCabe was not so fortunate.
Had McAuley still been inside for that barbarous act, he would not have been in a position to stack up further victims. Ms Tully clearly does not feel confident that she is now safe, saying: "I am in absolute fear of him and fear that some day he will make another attempt on my life."
It's a common pattern - the victim receives a life sentence; the killer gets off comparatively lightly. That raises serious questions, not only for the justice system, but also for SF, namely: how many more Pearse McAuleys have been released as a result of amnesties granted to IRA killers?
It's important not to tar them all with the same brush. There may be a perception amongst its enemies that the IRA was filled with psychopaths, who had simply chosen to channel their dark energies into terrorism out of opportunism. Psychological studies do not back up this stereotype.
One psychiatrist who profiled IRA terrorists in the 1980s found no evidence that they were, as a group, "diagnosably psychopathic or otherwise clinically disturbed".
As academic Richard English, author of a number of works on the Troubles, points out, there wasn't an "inexplicable and spontaneous outburst of mass psychopathy" in the North in the 1970s. Violence came about because of the political situation.
That doesn't mean it was any more justified than if it had been spontaneous. Causation is not an excuse. But it's undoubtedly true that an environment such as the one in the North created a murky moral undergrowth in which terrifying individuals could go undetected. The Provos had more than their fair share.
IRA commander Brendan Hughes told the Boston Tapes project of one such man: "He was a friend all my life and I was frightened of him. I went to work in England with him at one time and I was sleeping. When I woke up, he was trying to kill me. I woke one night and he'd his hands round my throat trying to kill me."
Another former member, Eamon Collins, who wrote a critical book about the organisation, was murdered by the IRA in revenge whilst out walking. The description of his death by author Kevin Toolis makes clear that his attackers went far beyond what was necessary to kill him: "First they hit him with an iron bar to get him down on the road, then they started stabbing, gouging out his face. The blade even pierced his skull. Four against one. It was messy, blood everywhere."
This was psychopathic blood lust of the same order as that exhibited by the Shankill Butchers. The work of serial killers, not freedom fighters.
Hughes called the Volunteer who tried to kill him "a dangerous, dangerous man", before adding: "But every army attracts psychopaths."
That's also true. Psychopaths flourish in war and, as US army major David Piersen once explained, they bring "obvious advantages to a unit. They will personally kill the enemy in droves. They are natural leaders who will motivate other soldiers to kill."
As long as these men are under the control of the organisation, they remain useful. Take the discipline away and all that's left is the urge to violence.
Author Andy McNab, who served in the SAS, speaks of former colleagues who went off the rails in the same way, including one doing time for murder after shooting his girlfriend in the back in a pub car park after an argument.
Rather than recognising and managing these problems, as regular armies do, SF/IRA turns a blind eye to the implications of having large numbers of people steeped in extreme violence returned to the community without any safeguards. Instead of seeking to understand, they prefer to simplistically eulogise those who've done terrible things, as if past, present and future can be so easily distinguished.
In honouring Pearse McAuley when he did time for Garda McCabe's brutal killing, republicans might argue that they had a duty of care to one of their own; but they have an equally onerous, some might say heavier, duty to those whose well-being might be harmed by men like him.
Instead, they wash their hands of responsibility. It's tempting to ask what did they expect? A more pertinent question is: knowing now what they know about Pearse McAuley, will they be more cautious about whitewashing others like him, given the strong possibility that similar cases might happen again?
The answer, disturbingly, is in the negative. If that means other former Volunteers' wives and children have to suffer to maintain the rose-tinted myth of the struggle, then so be it. The cause is always more important than the casualties.