Martina Devlin: How our faith in the goodness of others dies with the killing of a decent man
Take a look at the photograph of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. Do you see what I see? I see everybody's neighbour: an approachable, capable, dependable-looking guard – the kind you'd make a beeline for if you needed help. In or out of uniform, he comes across as someone you could turn to, someone steady and slow to judge.
A rock-solid man.
How do I know? There's a clue in his behaviour immediately before his death. Det Gda Donohoe's fundamental decency shone through in the moments leading up to his murder.
He presumed neither violence nor evil intent.
He simply left his car and went over to the raiders to establish why they were in that credit union car park in Co Louth. No doubt his training had taught him to be wary, but he did not automatically go on the offensive.
He did not even draw his handgun – affording the benefit of the doubt to a criminal gang that gave him no quarter in return.
That absence of automatic suspicion – that willingness to believe the best before discovering the worst – cost him his life. But it's exactly what we need from our gardai. We can't have a police service that treats the public with hostility, drawing weapons without provocation.
Det Gda Donohoe's attitude shows what calibre of man he was: a civilised human being. The polar opposite of his killer.
The criminal gang gave him no opportunity to surrender, issued no order to drop his weapon, offered no reprieve. Death was dealt out in seconds.
Perhaps they lost their nerve. It could be that they were flustered and blundered. The heist has the hallmarks of a volatile operation, and maybe a panic job, since they left €40,000 behind.
But Det Gda Donohoe should never have died. Whether ruthlessness or loss of control on the gang's part led to his death, it should not have happened.
Five men armed with a shotgun, handgun and hammer could have imprisoned the two guards who arrived on the scene to escort cash from Lordship Credit Union to Dundalk.
The raider with the shotgun could have ordered the approaching guard to throw down his gun. He did not have to open fire – not for a potential haul worth tens of thousands of euro, and least of all for a paltry €4,000.
In the event, a husband and father died so that five masked men in tracksuits could net €800 apiece.
The pitilessness of that killing carries exceptional menace. Under any circumstances it would be haunting. But this gang committed murder for the price of a modest car loan from the credit union, or a kitchen refurbishment.
Det Gda Donohoe's parish priest, Fr Padraig Murphy, has articulated the local community's bewilderment at his murder – but his words also convey the national bafflement.
"I think people just don't know what to think," he told RTE's 'Morning Ireland'. "It's just like a dark cloud has descended upon us and they are sickened by what has happened."
Whether clumsiness or callousness – or both – led to this death it is, indeed, stomach-churning. When 41-year-old Det Gda Donohoe set out for work last Friday, he wasn't just protecting and serving the people of the Dundalk area. He was doing his job on behalf of the people of Ireland.
I don't suggest the gardai are the thin blue line that keeps the forces of anarchy at bay; society has not disintegrated to levels of utter lawlessness. But theirs is an essential function, and they do it well. By and large, the gardai form one of the pillars on which our society rests, and its members carry out their functions with a diligence that exceeds mere duty.
That merciless action – raising a shotgun, taking aim at another human being's face and discharging the weapon – has far-reaching consequences.
It leaves Det Gda Donohoe's widow Caroline (a garda at the same station in Dundalk where her husband was stationed) with a son and daughter aged six and seven to raise on her own.
It leaves gardai across the State, and their families, fearful of what might meet them in the course of their work. And it leaves citizens anxious about the sort of society we live in.
We might also pause to consider Det Gda Joe Ryan, who watched his colleague gunned down last Friday night. He must have wondered if he, too, was drawing his final breath.
Take a final look at that photograph of Det Gda Donohoe. Notice his laughter lines – he was a man who enjoyed his life.
Observe his confidence and the ease with which he holds himself – he was embedded into the Lordship community and a key member of the local GAA club.
He will be buried tomorrow, on a day of mourning for the Donohoe family, and for An Garda Siochana.
It is a day of mourning for all of us. How could it be any other, when a neighbour whose job was to protect the community was murdered for it?