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A mother's quest for truth helps us see clearer picture

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Breege Quinn with her husband Stephen. Photo: Tony Gavin

Breege Quinn with her husband Stephen. Photo: Tony Gavin

Breege Quinn with her husband Stephen. Photo: Tony Gavin

A mother might easily get lost in her grief for a murdered son. But Breege Quinn's love for her child instead ignited a relentless quest for truth.

Some 13 years ago, 20-year-old Paul was sadistically beaten to death by a gang of 10.

Adding grave insult to mortal injury was the fact his reputation was also trampled on.

Omertà has surrounded the act. It took an election to break the silence.

All Ms Quinn and her heartbroken husband had been left with was the memory of a short life - but even this came under attack.

Speaking on RTÉ, she told how her husband now only leaves the house to visit Paul's grave. Listeners to Sean O'Rourke were also reminded that she did not even have the solace of placing rosary beads in the young man's hands, so badly were his fingers broken.

After all that, it was the comments of Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy which almost broke her spirit.

Mr Murphy had claimed: "Paul Quinn was involved in smuggling and criminality. I think everyone accepts that."

Everyone did not. It was a scurrilous claim adding further suffering to an already shattered family.

Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams made similar baseless allegations.

So when the party's current leader, Mary Lou McDonald, went on RTÉ and denied Mr Murphy had ever sullied Mr Quinn's name, it was probably more than Ms Quinn could bear.

Yet confronted with direct evidence to the contrary in the leaders' debate, Ms McDonald was momentarily lost for words. Finally, after all that time, Ms Quinn has an apology.

The truth is the fulcrum on which democracy turns. In 48 hours' time a critical election will be held in which confidence in our leaders is paramount. A series of domestic and international crises await. All leaders have been challenged on their fitness to hold office.

Only the Sinn Féin leader has challenged herself through her inability to give straight answers.

Asked three times if she supported the non-jury Special Criminal Court, she failed to answer.

Her party has been outstanding in identifying problems which directly affect the lives of people - but far less so in explaining how we can afford the vast sums of money it would spend on fixing them.

Perhaps Sinn Féin has lived in the shadows for so long it was dazzled by the spotlight of accountability on Paul Quinn. That's one way of interpreting its discomfort and evasion.

Or perhaps it is still not fully at ease with the total commitment to transparency which democracy demands.

The Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz once wrote: "In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot."

There are indeed moments when it seems the truth can come like a thunderbolt. Such moments of revelation can also come in elections, when suddenly something hidden comes into focus and we see a clearer, if still not a complete, picture.

Irish Independent