Garda murder is an attack on every citizen of the State
Murders of members of the security forces amount to nothing less than an attack on the integrity of the state they serve.
The violent death of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe has been rightly met, on the human scale, with shock and revulsion, but it also reminds us of the ever-present danger to civilised society.
An Garda Siochana stands in the thin line that holds back that threat, and the single shot that wiped out Det Gda Donohoe's life was a blow to us all.
We may have thought ourselves almost inured after 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland and so many instances of gangsterism in the Republic. Not so. We were shocked to the core by the deaths of Veronica Guerin and Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.
Now we have experienced a similar shock, and reacted in a similar manner. We look for swift action from the Government – in particular, Justice Minister Alan Shatter – and the gardai. We want the rule of law asserted. We want the killer of Det Gda Donohoe, and his accomplices, brought to justice.
But most citizens are wise enough to know that there is nothing simple about the investigation of this bizarre case.
One of its most exceptional features, and also one of the most brazen, was the almost casual manner in which the murder occurred.
The perpetrators cannot have been surprised by the presence of law enforcement officers at the transfer of a small sum of money from a credit union. This is the regular practice.
Is it conceivable that they deliberately lured Det Gda Donohoe and his colleague to the scene? Unfortunately, it now appears so.
This monstrous scenario is inseparable from the question of the perpetrators' identity.
Yesterday, the garda authorities said they could be either "dissident republicans" from the North or "ordinary criminals" from any part of Ireland. Perhaps the discovery of a car in Armagh supplies a clue. But too much should not be made of the distinction.
Lately the two groups have entered into an evil alliance.
This fact alone points up the absurdity of claims of political motivation by the "dissidents". They are not dissidents in the normal sense of the term. They are thugs and criminals like their new friends.
Some of their recruits are reportedly former members of the Provisional IRA. That might seem to suggest a certain capacity for organisation and planning. In reality, they are almost certain to be drawn into the feuds familiar to us from our knowledge of criminal gangs in Dublin and elsewhere.
But An Garda Siochana cannot sit back and hope to profit from the gangs' mistakes.
On the contrary, it must take the initiative, both in pursuit of those responsible for the death of Adrian Donohoe and in examining its own campaign against organised crime.
Mr Shatter says that the police "have all the resources they need". Commissioner Martin Callinan says that in responding to an event like the murder, "resources are not an issue and will never be an issue".
Comforting words. Are they justified? On the ground, many gardai disagree. They consider themselves under-resourced, and politicians insufficiently aware of their needs and grievances.
If more money must be spent, so be it. But let it be spent wisely. Let it be spent on breaking up the gangs, and on showing the public that the men and women on the front line control the streets.
They have the power to prevent, or disperse, paramilitary displays.
Nobody wants to give the clowns in black berets an excuse for a riot, but such demonstrations are a disgusting affront to democracy and order – and the memory of Adrian Donohoe, who died protecting our society.