Friday 22 November 2019

We need to use this brutality to banish our smug complacency

Bray Boxing Club Picture: Collins
Bray Boxing Club Picture: Collins
John Downing

John Downing

It is still remembered as one of the most infamous comments associated with what we euphemistically recall as the 'Northern Ireland Troubles', but which should be called three decades of murder and horror.

On December 15, 1971, Reginald Maudling, the British home secretary, spoke about the escalating violence in the North. He was the first British figure to publicly concede that the authorities could not defeat or completely eliminate the IRA.

"But it is the design of the security forces to reduce their level of violence to something like an acceptable level," Mr Maudling said.

There was initial outrage, and it was revived on several occasions thereafter in the ensuing decades, when similar insensitive comments were made by prominent people. But there was also a rueful admission that there was in realpolitik "an acceptable level of violence", and that something approaching normal life could go on around murderous mayhem. In fact it went on for more than 30 years.

For most of that time, London politicians lived with "an acceptable level of violence" in the North. Frequently, John Hume would rhetorically ask: "In what other part of the UK would it be accepted that there are armed soldiers travelling around in armoured cars and patrolling the roads and streets?"

The same principle can be extended to our current attitudes to the waves of murdering gangsters' activities that have periodically erupted. We have become inured to a roll call of murder and horror done by ruthless criminals.

Sometimes we get a wake-up call. The murder of 'Sunday Independent' journalist Veronica Guerin in June 1996 was one. The brazenness of the killing in the Regency Hotel in Dublin, in February 2016, was another.

It is easy to think of it as something which happens in the poorer quarters where the criminal elements hang out. Often we cling to the quiet hope that "they do it to each other" and that somehow that is, at the limit, something the mainstream society can live with.

But it is dangerous to think that thugs killing thugs is ok. Now and again thugs will kill us as innocent bystanders in the crossfire, in mistaken identity, or because we are standing between them and their ends.

In fact they already have on several occasions done just that. And those early morning murderous shootings in Bray, which killed Bobby Messett, and injured two others, are just the latest example. That brutal reality is only one practical manifestation of the dangers of thinking that there is an acceptable level of violent crime in our midst.

It is vital that we stay with the belief that nobody is beneath the law or above the law. Gangsters terrorising their neighbours in certain poorer areas of our cities cannot be ignored lest we all pay a price.

An Garda Síochána has recorded many successes since the Regency Hotel outrage in 2016. But gardaí face real problems as they show considerable courage in facing this challenge. They deserve all our support on this mission.

They cannot be given a blank cheque from the taxpayer. But they do need more manpower, training and other resources.

We need to use the Bray Boxing Club shootings to shake us out of our smug complacency. There is no acceptable level of violence or criminality in Ireland.


Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News