Saturday 19 April 2014

Let's hope the real debate on killings will go beyond political point scoring

The opening day of the Smithwick Tribunal in March 2006

'IT IS because the war is over. It is done and dusted – and now we have to build the peace," Gerry Adams told us yesterday.

Only a tiny minority of bigots and yobs on this island would disagree with that statement by now. The trouble is that so many of the Sinn Fein leader's other statements yesterday did not help advance that view.

The searing line from Paul Brady's song, 'The Island', seemed very appropriate. Adams was – yet again – 'trying to reach the future through the past'.

In the Dail, Gerry Adams insisted that he stood over his earlier statement on Newstalk radio. In essence the man who was never, ever, in the IRA was saying that Superintendent Bob Buchanan and Chief Superintendent Harry Breen 'were asking for it' on that fateful day in March 1989, when they were shot dead by the IRA, as they had not taken enough safety precautions.

The Sinn Fein president insisted that he needed no reminding that these men had left two grieving families. "These were brave officers doing their duty as they saw it, in the same way as the IRA volunteers saw it as their duty," he said.

He evoked the name 'Kilmichael' as he insisted the men and women of 1919-1921 were in the same bracket as those who ambushed these two RUC men. He even managed to have a direct pop at some Labour TDs' previous Workers' Party links, a party which in turn was linked to Official IRA.

It allowed him to list off some of the Official IRA's murderous acts, and in a side-bar, re-open a few old wounds in the greater so-called 'republican family'. A small digression into internecine murder on the way to building the peace.

In Irish he told us there was "no good war" and "no bad peace". Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's riposte also came in the Irish language. "Whatever kind of war it was, deputy, it was a vicious, sectarian war," he said.

After more than half an hour of raw debate in our national parliament it was very hard to see anything beyond low-grade political point scoring. Hopefully, the planned full Dail debate on the Smithwick Report, which is to take place soon, will generate more real discussion.

The Government's overall response to these disturbing conclusions reflected very well upon them. Nobody demurred or sought to downplay or equivocate.

Judge Smithwick had concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, there was some low-level collusion by some unidentified member or members of the gardai at Dundalk, which led to this ambush and double murder.

The judge criticised the gardai for their greater eagerness to defend the force's image rather than to establish the truth in the ensuing internal investigations. There might be a temptation to dwell on all the things Judge Smithwick did not decide – notably who had colluded, how and when.

But the Government clearly and correctly decided that it was important to respect the integrity of this process by a judge and a team who had devoted eight years to it.

"This is not a day for muddying the waters, not a day for pulling this report apart or finding a flaw in it," the Tanaiste summed up.

Standing back from it all, we find one of those rare moments when we can easily put ourselves in the place of decent unionists north of the Border when accusations were levelled at their own police force. Even those who might not always especially like An Garda Siochana must acknowledge that they stood their ground through the Northern Ireland troubles.

The 12 gardai murdered by subversives bear testimony to the risks the force members ran over 30 years. The murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe by so-called dissidents robbing a credit union as recently as January of this year reminds us that this threat still lingers.

All of the State's institutions have lessons to learn from the weighty tome that is the Smithwick Report.

We are not entirely sure yet what these lessons are, but it is clear that there is a need to move toward some formula for dealing with past injustices. We need a way of dealing with past vicious crimes which helps to buttress the fragile peace.

Many of us will look at the cross-party talks in the North led by US representative Richard Haass. On Tuesday, Dr Haass asked the five main Stormont political parties about combining the plethora of pending inquiries into a single process, also ensuring services and compensation for surviving victims of the Troubles.

But we must also take a more focused interest in this jurisdiction starting with a proper Dail debate about the Smithwick Report.

Irish Independent

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