OVER the course of this last week, the bravery of An Garda Siochana was centre stage. The cruel murder of a garda, while he sought to protect the savings of a small community in the Cooley Peninsula, shocked and outraged the entire nation.
People felt a visceral anger and disgust. That bond between our people and our police, one of the basic foundation stones of the Republic, had come under attack by faceless thugs offering only greed, contempt and murderous violence.
It fell to the country's political leaders to try to communicate some of those feelings on behalf of the country when we stood in the Dail to deliver statements of sympathy following the death of Detective Garda Aidan Donohoe.
The Taoiseach, Tanaiste and I each did our best to capture how the country felt and make clear the national determination to defeat those responsible. Whether any of us succeeded is for others to judge, but I doubt that much consideration will be given to that question.
Instead, that night and in the days since, the attention moved to the contribution of our colleague Gerry Adams and his decision, after 17 years defending it, to apologise for the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe – the last garda to be shot dead in the course of his duty.
There are many well intentioned people who have moved quickly to welcome the apology as a major step forward.
Many of these are people I respect, and who share my view on the critical importance of protecting and promoting the peace process. However, there are many others of us who, having worked for many years to persuade Mr Adams and his colleagues to embrace democracy, decommission weaponry and recognise the police, look a bit more carefully at what the Sinn Fein leadership say to understand what is really happening.
When you look a bit more carefully at Tuesday night's statement and the events since then, unfortunately, the image of a Sinn Fein leader finally recognising the error of past atrocities and expressing genuine remorse quickly fades and gets replaced by a much more cynical picture.
Approaching the statements on Tuesday night, it must have been difficult for Sinn Fein. How do you talk about the evil of one policeman being shot dead, when you're leader of an organisation that defended and campaigned for the release of those who gunned down the last policeman to be shot dead?
The answer, which is the same answer to most of the similar conundrums that they've faced in the past, was simply 'what's best for Sinn Fein?' Hence, Deputy Adams gives an equivocal and coded apology that secures him the evening headlines, and creates an impression, for those who don't follow it too closely, that the new Sinn Fein is genuinely remorseful and has moved on.
For those who do follow it closely, the statement raised more questions than it answered – who was he apologising on behalf of? Did the apology encompass his sustained effort over years to get the killers released? Did it include the actions of his colleague Martin Ferris, who outraged public opinion by turning up to drive them home upon their early release?
Another question, which was answered just hours later, was whether the apology extended to the families of the 273 policemen and women that this same organisation murdered, just a few miles north of the Cooley Peninsula?
Without any of the same pressure that Adams was under last Tuesday night, the Northern office confirmed last Wednesday morning that there would be no such expressions of remorse for those murders. It turns out that in the new Sinn Fein, killing a policeman in one end of the country is still a 'vastly different' thing to killing a policeman in another end of the country.
Mary Lou McDonald told the Irish Independent that the reason for the difference was the 'conflict'. Last Tuesday night, Adams sought to explain Detective Garda McCabe's murder on exactly the same basis. The fact that Garda McCabe was involved in a conflict in Adare, Co Limerick, came as news to many in Leinster House and across the country. It is and always has been a proposition that I and most other people absolutely reject.
I look forward to the day when I can welcome a genuine apology from Mr Adams; when the need for compassion and national healing, and the need to tell the truth, becomes more important for his strategists than the political benefit of the Sinn Fein Party.
It was with genuine regret that I reflected on what happened last week and concluded that that day remains as far away as ever.
Micheal Martin is leader of Fianna Fail and TD for Cork South-Central.