Saturday 19 October 2019

Eilis O'Hanlon: 'What happened in the past is not an excuse for going soft on North thugs'

Well-meaning words of condemnation after the attack on Kevin Lunney are meaningless unless followed by action

Speaking in the Dail last Thursday, the Tanaiste said the attack on Kevin Lunney was reminiscent of
Speaking in the Dail last Thursday, the Tanaiste said the attack on Kevin Lunney was reminiscent of "gangland paramilitary-style punishment beatings of the past"

Eilis O'Hanlon

Britain's new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said on her appointment last month that she wanted criminals "to feel terror at the thought of committing offences".

She was criticised harshly by the familiar bleeding heart brigade. A subsequent poll found that 72pc of people agreed with her.

A similar poll taken in Ireland following last Tuesday's unspeakable attack on businessman Kevin Lunney, who was found with what police described as "severe and savage" and "life-changing" injuries in Co Cavan after being abducted from outside his home in the North, would surely find even greater support for cracking down on those responsible, either directly, or by organising and paying for it.

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Why should those behind the ongoing campaign of intimidation against Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) be treated with kid gloves?

One reason may be found in the BBC's new documentary series, The Troubles: A Secret History, which, while featuring little that wasn't already well known to those who lived through the period, should be required viewing for anyone tempted to fall for the romanticised version of conflict being peddled by republicans.

The first episode catalogued how the British lost control of the situation following a series of disastrous tactical errors that succeeded only in inflaming Catholic nationalist opinion and driving disaffected youths into the ranks of the IRA.

It's now become a truism in Northern Ireland that decision-makers need to learn these lessons from history, so that, should violence ever break out again, they wouldn't repeat the same mistakes. But what were security forces meant to do - go easy on the IRA, in the hope that its leaders would eventually come to their senses?

History is equally riddled with examples of the foolishness of that strategy. Looking back, it could be that future generations decide that's exactly what we're doing right now when it comes to the dissident republicans believed to be involved in the attack on Kevin Lunney.

Some self-styled authorities on dealing with subversives will surely insist that they too should be brought into the fold, listened to, negotiated with. Most people would be repulsed at such a prospect, and rightly so.

These are not individuals and groups that deserve any consideration. Their activities demand the harshest response.

Liam McCaffrey, chief executive of Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH), put it plainly in response to the brutal attack on his friend and colleague: "This is a security situation and we need a security solution. We need the force of the State, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, to come together to get a system in place and enforce it."

Political messages of sympathy are meaningless unless followed by harsh determination by the two governments.

Dissident activity continues to fester. The killing of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry was the most tragic incident, but it's only a matter of time before police officers are murdered again.

Speaking in the Dail last Thursday, the Tanaiste said the attack on Kevin Lunney was reminiscent of "gangland paramilitary-style punishment beatings of the past".

It wasn't reminiscent of such attacks. It was such an attack. Liam McCaffrey called it right again when he said it was an "orchestrated terror campaign". Last Tuesday's events confirm the need to treat it as such.

It's believed to have been carried out by members of the Continuity IRA in Co Fermanagh with the help of former Real IRA members in Co Cavan, and sources say it's being overseen by "a local IRA man of some standing" who moved post-ceasefire into organised crime.

The ringleaders are obviously not doing it for charity. Money has changed hands. That fact alone shows the true nature of dissident republicans. They're not idealistic insurrectionists, but thugs for hire. Just because some of them claim a political motivation changes nothing, any more than it did when the Provos were at their height.

Sinn Fein nonetheless continues to laud the organisation which gave birth to, and continues to inspire, the dissidents, choosing to ignore that the IRA was a criminal enterprise too, while condemning the attack on Kevin Lunney.

"He was tortured, tortured for two hours," said a shocked local Sinn Fein councillor, Chris McCaffrey, a neighbour of the victim. "You wouldn't do it to an animal."

In fact, members of the Provisional IRA did just that to South Armagh man Paul Quinn, 21 at the time of his murder, when he was lured to a shed in Co Monaghan in October 2007, long after the IRA was supposed to have ceased all operations.

There, he was set upon by a group of men with nail-studded clubs and iron bars. He died in hospital two hours later. The autopsy found that every major bone in Paul's body had been broken. Doctors told the family: "They left nothing for us to fix."

Sinn Fein has always denied that republicans were involved in the murder. Gerry Adams blamed a "small handful of criminals". In truth, the killers are well known to the family, who see them in the local area every day, and to the PSNI and Garda, and the murder came about because of a run-in with the son of a local IRA leader.

There's no doubt that republicans such as Chris McCaffrey are genuinely horrified by what happened to Kevin Lunney, and wish to see justice for the innocent victim; but do they never join the dots?

The republican movement locked down in silence after Paul Quinn's murder, claiming to have no information to share with police, just as those who undoubtedly know who's behind this attack are closing ranks too. These people are all cut from the same cloth, and need to be met with as much force as is needed to cut the ground from under them, including those who paid for the attack to happen.

Whether that leads to more young people gravitating towards dark forces is unknowable. They will certainly be encouraged to do so. The chairman of Soaradh, described by the PSNI as the "voice" of the New IRA, reportedly the most dangerous of the dissident groups, with a growing base in Derry, told Sky News last month: "If young people in the six counties have been more politicised and in some sense radicalised by events of recent times, then what's wrong with that?"

Some sinister elements will be watching The Troubles: A Secret History for pointers how to turn discontent into violence.

All the same, what happened in the past cannot be an excuse for going softly on groups who are capable of the savagery which was meted out to Kevin Lunney.

Advising senior staff at QIH not to stop their cars for any reason, and to take other security measures at home, as the police have done recently, isn't enough.

As Priti Patel correctly said, it's not decent, law-abiding people who should be afraid of savages. It's the savages who should be afraid.

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