The tragic death of Garda Golden is a harsh lesson that must be heeded
Published 17/10/2015 | 02:30
Sporting euphoria was rampant last weekend, as our national teams played on the world stage with distinction. But national pride was eclipsed by two separate tragic incidents back home.
The first was an appalling fire that claimed the lives of members of the Travelling community, including five children, housed in a temporary halting site in south Dublin. The second, which happened when we were reeling from the first, was the murder of 36-year-old Garda Tony Golden in Omeath, Co Louth, by dissident republican Adrian Crevan Mackin.
The murder of a member of the Garda Síochána on duty is the gravest of crimes. Some 88 members of the force have died while on duty, many of them, like Garda Golden, victims of violent subversives. Indeed, the Garda Síochána were the front line in the State's defence against republican subversion and criminality over the four decades of the Troubles. And the force remains engaged in countering and monitoring dissident republicans who have rejected the political settlement of the Good Friday Agreement. Members of these groups are well known to gardaí and the PSNI and to their credit, joint operations and sharing of intelligence have foiled terrorist attacks north and south of the border over recent times.
The join between these dissident republicans and ordinary criminals can be opaque. Diesel and gun smuggling, intimidation, money laundering and racketeering is their way of life. This is particularly so in the border areas of South Armagh and Co Louth, where this incident occurred. It is the second murder of a member of the Garda Siochana in recent times. Garda Adrian Donohoe was murdered in the course of the armed robbery of the Lordship credit union in the same border area only two years ago. No one has been charged with this murder; reportedly, those suspected have fled to the United States.
In the tragic case last weekend, Mackin's ex-partner - a young woman and mother of two children - had made a formal complaint of assault by him, and Gda Golden accompanied her to retrieve belongings from her home. Mackin was armed and shot both her and Gda Golden as they entered the house, before taking his own life. The facts are clear. There will be no criminal investigation. Just a coroner's report on the death of a garda. However, major questions arise over security.
How should these dissident republican groups and individuals be treated in terms of policing and surveillance, given the threat they pose to the community? How many of them are armed, active and living in the community?
The official response is that they are heavily monitored. Is this policy of containment appropriate or adequate? Should the murder of another garda by a dissident republican not cause an operational review of policing in the areas where they hold sway?
Former Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, who represented the area as a TD for many years, was right to question how this individual, known to the police North and South, and on bail pending trial on terrorist charges, was in possession of a lethal weapon such as a Glock 9mm handgun.
Why was an unarmed garda deployed on his own to confront such a known criminal with disastrous consequences and loss of life? These are the questions that will haunt the family of Gda Golden, his wife and children, long after his burial this week.
Tears and tributes can only bring some comfort.
More is required. His death should trigger a review of policing of dissident republicans and border-related criminality so that gardaí and the community are given maximum protection.
There has been a degree of official complacency in this regard; a wrong- headed acceptance that this is an inevitable legacy of the Troubles. There perhaps has not been enough societal disapproval of these dissidents, who occasionally have paramilitary funerals and appear to be tolerated for their extreme political views in the community. Reports have since emerged that Mackin was known to be supplying handguns to criminal gangs, and weapons and bomb-making devices were found in a search of his house in January.
He was, however, only charged with IRA membership and was given bail. This lax approach to subversion is ill-judged and should not be repeated. Concern about ongoing paramilitary activities of individuals and groups in the North has brought the power-sharing executive at Stormont to the brink of collapse and was only averted by the UK government establishing a high-level 'paramilitary review panel', which is due to report soon.
The murder of Gda Golden should prompt a similar review of dissident republican activities and criminality in this jurisdiction by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
The Omeath tragedy also reminds us all of the gravity of what is euphemistically called "domestic violence". Many such incidents are not taken seriously enough by the authorities or the courts.
Most are dealt with in the civil family courts by way of barring orders.
Yet Women's Aid figures concerning the extent of inter-partner violence in Ireland are shocking.
The harsh fact is that women are more likely to be killed or seriously injured by their partner or spouse than by anyone else.
Since 1996, 209 women have been murdered in Ireland, with 62pc of the killings happening in the women's homes. Of the murders of women resolved in the courts, 55pc of them were killings perpetrated by the woman's partner or ex-partner. Ironically, the Dundalk Women's Aid refuge only survived closure last year by a last-minute injection of funds by the two local authorities.
Gardaí are often the first responders to women fleeing their violent partners. In the case of Gda Golden responding to Siobhan Phillips, who is now critically ill, the tragic outcome was unforeseen - but in retrospect could have been avoided. Lessons must be learned from this tragedy.
That would be a lasting and meaningful tribute to a brave young garda just doing his job.