Analysis

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Voters should demand moral clarity from all candidates

Bereaved families have bravely spoken up against Martin McGuinness during the presidential campaign, writes Jody Corcoran

Published 23/10/2011 | 07:23

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‘I WOULDN’T like to politicise their grief," Sean Gallagher said last weekend arising out of questions asked of the Sinn Fein candidate Martin McGuinness by the families of victims of Provisional IRA killings.

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But there is no politics in grief. Grief is grief. Nor can there be politics in murder. Murder is murder. There is, however, a requirement for moral clarity. Mr Gallagher attended a presidential debate of the candidates hosted by the RTE broadcaster Charlie Bird, at Dublin City University yesterday. He had expected the issue would arise. He was, it seems, prepared for it.



He had so expected because Ann McCabe, widow of slain Garda Detective Jerry McCabe, had intervened to devastating effect last week. She raised a searching question as to the suitability of Martin McGuinness for the Presidency.



“I was expecting it to come around . . . I was expecting it to be the next question,” Mr Gallagher told Sunday Independent reporter Ronald Quinlan, after the debate had concluded. He should not be surprised that the issue did not arise in the debate. In this election, RTE has seemed to studiously avoid the issue of Mr McGuinness’s past as if it were not entirely legitimate. But it is entirely legitimate and now we know that Mr Gallagher, too, knows it to be entirely legitimate.



Today, he joins a list of other candidates, Gay Mitchell and Michael D Higgins, who know it to be entirely legitimate. The family of Jerry McCabe was disappointed by Mr Gallagher’s comment last week, however well intended, that he did not want to “politicise” the “grief ” of the families of Provisional IRA victims.



Although he did not want to “politicise” their “grief ”, it is now clear that Mr Gallagher had done just that. He had politicised their grief whether he had intended to or not. The likelihood is that he had not intended to. The McCabe family, and other victims’ families, believed that Mr Gallagher was being evasive, however, that his words had lacked the moral clarity required for somebody who aspired to be President of Ireland.



Yesterday, Mr Gallagher sought to give the McCabe family, the other families, and the rest of us, the moral clarity required. The families are the ones who have bravely spoken out during this election campaign. They are the ones — the bereaved — who have chosen to make the Provisional IRA killings of security forces personnel central to the presidential election.



Alongside the McCabe family, the other families who have spoken out are of:



-Garda Michael Clerkin, blown up in a booby trap bomb by the IRA;



-Detective Garda Frank Hand, murdered by the IRA during a post office robbery;



- Private Patrick Kelly, killed in an IRA shootout while attempting to rescue the kidnapped businessman.



-Brian Stack, chief prison officer at Portlaoise Prison, also murdered by the IRA.



So Mr Gallagher said this: “All our support and solidarity must go now to the families . . . there can be no room for ambiguity on the part of anybody who is standing in an election to be the President, to be the head of the Defence Forces, and to be the Head of State.”



He did not use the word “condemn”. Last week, Mr Gallagher told Sunday Independent that he did not like to condemn people. In the same breath, he added that he did not know of anybody who “condoned” the killing of Jerry McCabe. As a man from a border county, Mr Gallagher should be aware that there are many who still condone that killing, who silently whisper it, grotesque as that may seem to the rest of us.



He said his heart went out to Ann McCabe and her family, and to the other families, who were the victims of “heinous” crimes for doing their duty to the State. In fact, he disclosed that he knows the family of Gary Sheehan, the trainee garda who was also killed by the Provisional IRA, alongside Private Patrick Kelly, in Derrada Woods in Co Leitrim.



Anybody who knew anything about these murders, Mr Gallagher said, should come forward with that information and make it available to the garda authorities. “The gardai and the Army play such an important role in protecting our society, and making it safe and secure for all of us,” he said. Then he came to the Martin McGuinness bit: “There should be absolutely no attempt to cover up any information. I would call on all the candidates, and anybody else throughout the country, who has information to bring that forward.”



He went further than that. He said, given the seriousness of the question, there could be no room for “ambiguity” on the part of anybody who was standing in the election to be President. And, yes, he said, people need to reflect on these important issues before they cast their vote. Win or lose, Sean Gallagher has run a phenomenal election campaign. On his website, as of 4pm yesterday, 33,391 (mainly young) people had signed up to his Facebook page.



They would do well to listen to his words. Grief is grief. Murder is murder. There is no room for ambiguity. They need to reflect on that before they cast their vote.



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