Tuesday 20 March 2018

How could this happen in Sligo?

I'd written a piece for this column about Eugene Gillespie in the days after he was murdered, in the autumn of 2012. But as often happens, circumstances changed before the piece was due to be published (an arrest), and I hastily had to replace it with something else – something a lot less serious.

It's been over two weeks since the murder trial.

And while the story has moved off the front pages, we should never forget.

I didn't know Eugene Gillespie. Yet everyone tells me I must have known him. I must have met him.

Do I not recognise his picture? I don't.

Members of his family – yes, his shop in Old Market Street – yes, but not Eugene.

Which is strange in itself, as I spent 14 years working just around the corner from him.

And in those 14 years, I came to know that part of town reasonably well, that local community.

The morning snack and coffee in Jim Middleton's Shop in High Street.

Just after the 10 o'clock news, and you'd get more stories in Jim's shop from the characters that assembled there than you would all day scouring newspapers, or making phone calls.

They'd all be there – delivery men, young professional workers, locals asking for posters to be pinned in the window advertising bingo or charity events, those taking a break from studying the form in the bookies across the road.

I'm sure Eugene was in Middleton's on many such mornings, but I never knew.

What struck me about this part of the town was the closeness among its residents, how they looked after one another, the respect they had for one another, particularly the more elderly, of which they were many.

Which is why it's so hard to take what happened to Eugene Gillespie so mildly.

Your usual sense of fair play, and justice, and understanding sorely tested. He was one of our own, one of those in the shop.

What sort of society have we allowed develop that this can happen in a town like Sligo?

In the days following Eugene's murder, the Taoiseach was on RTE News commenting that life has become very cheap indeed (there were three murders in Ireland that week).

But what has been done since then to prevent this from re-occurring?

We now have a ludicrous situation where hundreds of people are attending public meetings across the North West, meetings borne from a fear of attack in their homes.

Meetings at which the average age of those is attendance is 65 years plus.

You can talk about Garda station closures, and lack of Gardai, high levels of unemployment, drugs problems, whatever.

But those who carry out the most dastardly deed of all in attacking pensioners in their own homes do so because of a lack of fear.

Fear that the punishment might fit the crime. And as it stands, it doesn't, in the majority of cases.

Any society worth its salt does as much as it can to protect its children, its elderly, its sick and its most vulnerable.

And that includes the harshest of harsh laws to deal with those who see fit to challenge this ethos.

We shouldn't expect anything less.

Sligo Champion