We all watched Love/Hate with a kind of fascination. It was exciting entertainment. But week after week, we had a feeling at the back of our minds that it was more than that. And as life began to imitate art it became clear that what we were getting was a glimpse into real life. Not the ordinary humdrum life of the majority, but a life completely devoid of any kind of moral compass centred entirely around the most base elements of human nature.
It is a sub-culture we mostly do our best to ignore. We feel that largely we can live our lives without it touching us. When we hear of another gangland killing we tend to shrug in a live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword sort of way. Animals, we think. And if they want to wipe each other out, well that's the life they have chosen because their only guiding principle is a vicious greed.
But it does touch us.
We are not a country with a traditional gun culture. After the War of Independence and the Civil War the guns were put away. That in itself was remarkable. Remarkable enough for us to decide that we did not need an armed police force, apart from a small cadre of detectives dealing largely with little groups of republicans.
But then along came the scourge of drugs. And side by side with that was the rise of much more sinister subversive groups determined to wage an armed struggle without any reference to the public at large, without any mandate except a flaky distortion of history. Eventually these two evils converged as the "politicals" saw the non-political gangsters – bank robbers first, then drug barons – as a useful source of funds, and the non-political criminals were keen to improve their firepower.
But such was the money involved in drugs that eventually the drug barons were able to import their own weapons – side arms at first, quickly graduating to automatic weapons. And that is where we are now. In the land of Love/Hate.
And still we think that it is another world which leaves us largely untouched. But it doesn't. Those who sell drugs have to sell them to someone. And as their original target market of inner city deprived youth expanded to take in teenagers everywhere, and then the young professionals looking for a thrill, this world got closer and closer to all of us.
If they were just selling drugs maybe we still wouldn't notice too much. But they're not. They sell all the attendant misery and heart-ache and tragedy and death. And these tragedies and these deaths are now ever present in every class of society. But still we have a tendency to shrug. Most of us don't know any big-time gangsters personally. We don't even know any low-level drug pushers or any professional bank robbers.
We are beginning to get more acquainted with burglars because they come into our homes with increasing frequency and violence, and we know that the streets of our towns and cities have become dangerous places, especially after dark.
The criminal culture has helped to make us more fearful as we go about our daily lives. Older people especially feel vulnerable, and if they can get their hands on a shotgun, they will keep it close at hand. They worry for themselves when thugs forces their way into their homes and rough them up or worse. They worry for their children out there in the night, becoming the victims of random, mindless violence or being touched by the insanity of drugs.
But still we don't always make the connection. We still think or maybe hope that serious crime is something that happens to someone else, in a different place. Not where we live. And we don't always make the right connections. Like when garda stations are shut down wholesale or garda numbers and pay are arbitrarily subjected to the needs of the departmental budget, or serious criminals are given bail in circumstances that seem inexplicable or are let out of jail early or given light sentences.
We forget that there is one body of men and women who are out there every day and every night facing up to the underworld, meeting
it head on at the risk of their limbs and their lives on our behalf. We don't appreciate enough the service they give us – and the protection. Until something really awful happens.
Like the slaughter of Garda Jerry McCabe 17 years ago. Mindless, vicious, uncompromising. And then on Friday, the murder of Garda Adrian Donohoe, a father of young children, and husband of a young wife who also, along with his three brothers, took an oath to protect and serve us. For that he forfeited his life because somebody decided that if they were willing to place no value on human life they could make some easy money.
This risk is a daily one for every serving member of the force. But we too easily put that from our minds too. Now our minds have been concentrated in the most painful way possible. Now we are forced to think deeply about the kind of society we live in, about just how much criminal anarchy we are willing to tolerate. It's not an easy feeling, but we must accept it and face up to it. We must not too soon lose our righteous anger. We must not allow ourselves too quickly to forget.