FRIDAY was a dark, dark day for Garda Caroline Donohoe, the wife and serving colleague of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, for his family and for the rest of us.
Our hearts go out to them and to his traumatised fellow member of the force, Garda Joe Ryan, who witnessed a shocking, cold-blooded execution of his friend, a decent man doing his duty to defend all of us from the evil thuggery of those who gunned him down.
We do not yet know the identity of the killers. It is not clear whether these psychopaths are members of a small, isolated gang of criminals or of a larger gang of criminals claiming to act on foot of some form of political motivation.
Revulsion towards this crime and its perpetrators is universal. We – all of us – must make it clear that we stand behind An Garda Siochana as our police force in the frontline of the battle against all forms of crime, no matter what the motive of the criminals involved.
As a former justice minister, I remember on many occasions privately telling those close to me that one of my greatest fears was that I would soon be calling to the home of a garda in the aftermath of a vicious murder such as this. I was spared that particular fate.
There were other occasions when I made such visits in the aftermath of tragic deaths of members of the force in traffic accidents and one occasion when I had to make such a visit to the home of a postmaster, Alan Cunniffe, who was shot down in an armed robbery in Kilkenny in 2006.
On such occasions, words of consolation or sympathy seemed wholly inadequate.
Speaking to Ann McCabe, the widow of Jerry McCabe, as I did on a number of occasions when I was a minister, reminded me that the families of slain gardai never recover from the brutality inflicted on them and on their loved one.
It emphasised to me that these murders are raw and open wounds for the victim's loved ones and for the wider community.
There is no doubt that every resource available to the gardai will now be focused on investigating this cruel murder and catching those who put Adrian Donohoe to death.
The killers deserve no sympathy and no excuses can ever be made from what they have done.
We cannot allow the drug and gun culture to destroy innocent lives. We cannot allow the so-called 'dissidents' to attack our democracy in a semi-formal alliance with those who are engaged in ordinary criminality.
The penalty for murdering a member of An Garda Siochana is mandatory life imprisonment with no prospect of parole for 40 years. This is as it should be.
The force is largely unarmed in the performance of its duties. Adrian Donohoe was no trigger-happy garda. He hadn't even drawn his gun as he went to confront the gang that murdered him.
Whenever in the past controversy has erupted about armed confrontations between gardai and members of criminal gangs, I have always taken the side of the Garda unambiguously.
Those who use firearms for criminal purposes must know that the community stands four- square behind An Garda Siochana in confronting them and dealing with them.
I have no problem with the principle that the use of lethal force by gardai must be the subject of scrupulous accountability. I do have a problem with armchair generals who ask those who put their
lives on the line for us to carry out their duties as if foresight was hindsight and as if the Garda was on the same moral plane as the robber and murderer.
We grieve collectively for Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, with his wife, his children, his family and his colleagues.
We should grieve for ourselves as well, now that the killing of members of An Garda Siochana has resumed in our time.
The least that we can do to honour his memory is to resolve that there will be no further truck with the demented "dissidents", no tolerance in any circumstance whatsoever for displays of paramilitarism at funerals, commemorations or the like.
Our national flag is not a coffin drape for thugs. The spectacle of its misuse without challenge in this way simply should not be repeated. So-called "guards of honour" consisting of men and women wearing paramilitary garb, black glasses, black berets and black gloves are criminal in nature and must be prevented.
I wish the gardai success in their hunt for the killers of Det Garda Donohoe and I fervently hope against expectation that no other member of the force will meet his fate in this generation.
Michael McDowell is a former attorney-general, justice minister and Tanaiste