Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Acknowledging grief and trauma

The killing of Adrian Donohoe on Friday January 25th sent a shock wave across the island. The young Garda Detective was shot dead only a short distance from his home when a criminal gang carried out an armed robbery of the Credit Union at Lordship.

The Jenkinstown area is a close knit community in the Colley peninsula. Adrian Donohoe was a valued member of that community. He was a keen GAA player both in his home town in Kilnaleck in Cavan and with the local St Patricks GAA club in the Cooleys, where he was both a coach to young kids and a player.

I didn’t know Garda Donohoe personally but many of those I know in the Cooleys liked and respected him. They all spoke of his courage and dedication, his work as a mentor to the youngsters in St. Pat’s GAC and his commitment to his family and community.

The men and women of An Garda Siochána do extraordinarily dangerous work in very difficult circumstances in defence of citizens. They risk their lives and wellbeing to protect society.

The shooting dead of Adrian Donohoe also and understandably evoked memories of the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe and the wounding of Garda Ben O Sullivan in Adare in June 1996. In my remarks in the Dáil I apologised on my own behalf and that of Sinn Féin to those families and to the families of other members of the state forces who were killed by republicans.

I had previously apologised to the McCabe family in May 2007 and again two years later in August 2009 when I described the apology by the men involved in the killing of Garda McCabe as genuine. I said it echoed the sentiments of republicans everywhere. I also expressed my deep regret for the “great loss and hurt suffered by the McCabe and O’Sullivan families.”

Republicans were not involved in the killing of Garda Adrian Donohoe. That much is clear. But there is a need to address the fact that other Gardaí were. That is what I tried to do in a genuine and sincere way.

All of these families, like so many others who were bereaved as a consequence of the conflict, have suffered great pain and loss. Sinn Féin is absolutely determined, as are the vast majority of Irish citizens, to ensure that the recent decades of conflict and the centuries of injustice and violence that preceded it, never ever occur again.

We are equally determined to stand with An Garda Siochána and the PSNI against those who would seek to turn the clock back to the bad days of conflict and in the battle against criminals and criminal gangs.

Regrettably, there have been some who have seen these events as an opportunity to point score against Sinn Féin and to make personalised attacks on me. The Independent Group of newspapers has been especially vitriolic. Every and any pretext is used to write disparaging articles or make offensive comments.

On Monday January 28th the Irish Independent published a particularly bitter and unedifying tirade by columnist Paul Williams. Among other allegations in it he accused me of having worked to “undermine the Gardaí’s work in every way possible.”

I wrote to the Independent. They carried my response although they left out a paragraph which said:  “On the contrary I have been very clear in my support for the Gardaí. Since my election as TD I have met with senior Garda officers on a number of occasions as part of my role in supporting their work and on other occasions to report criminal activity.
Indeed myself and Conor Murphy, MP for Newry & Armagh met both the PSNI and the Gardaí separately as part of our efforts to tackle cross-border crime.”

Sinn Féin representatives along the border corridor continue this work as our contribution to public safety and community justice. I am very proud to have been elected by the people of Louth to represent them in the Dáil and to lead the Sinn Féin party, whose representatives on both sides of the border work day and daily with both the Gardaí and PSNI for the good of the entire community.

The Independent Group of newspapers have a different agenda. The political bias of the editorial stance is matched only by the vitriol of Indo journalists like Fionnan Sheehan.
My apology for the killing of Garda McCabe by republicans also drew the ire of some unionists who in their desire to heap all responsibility for the conflict in the north onto republicans have demanded an apology for the deaths of members of the RUC and British Army.

They make this demand while they reject any suggestion that there should be apologies for the policies of Unionist governments over 50 years; or from the British government, or from unionist leaders, or from those who led the British Army or RUC or UDR or any of the other armed groups associated with the British system; all of whom used or supported the use of violence in furtherance of their own political agenda.

I do not believe the fact that citizens took up arms against oppression in the North, and against those forces that inflicted violence on behalf of the British state, is a matter of apology.

Members of armed groups such as the British Army and the RUC and UDR were active and willing participants in the conflict. So too were the volunteers of the IRA.


Members of An Garda Siochána and the Defence Forces were not combatants.

However, it is important that we should not lose sight of or ignore the hurt and pain of the families of all those who died fighting the war. 

No more than we can ignore the deaths and the injuries inflicted on civilians by the British, RUC, UDR, unionist and republican forces.

It is a sad fact of our history that many fell in action. That should give pause for thought to the political elites. It is a shocking indictment of the failure of politics.
I take no satisfaction from the killings by the IRA of British soldiers and RUC officers.
Whether it is the family of an IRA volunteer, or RUC officer, or the family of a member of the British forces, or of a civilian, or of a victim of sectarianism, or of collusion, they all deserve acknowledgement of the grief and trauma they have suffered.

A one-sided focus on the past takes us nowhere. Addressing complex and painful legacy issues is an enormous challenge.

The conflict is now over. This island and especially the north has been transformed by the Peace Process. There are now power sharing political institutions and a policing service to serve the needs of all citizens.

The priority for all political leaders at this time must be to commit ourselves fully and unequivocally to the Peace Process and ensure that there is never a recurrence of conflict. That is my focus and my commitment.

Reconciliation is an enormous challenge for all of us. There are still significant political differences. None of this will be resolved overnight. It is a process of dialogue, engagement, compromise. There is an onus on the Sinn Féin leadership to promote such a process.

But this is not just a matter for people in the north.  There is a particular responsibility also on leaders in this state, in the government and in Fianna Fáil, as well as in the media to deal with legacy issues directly effecting citizens in this state in a way which takes us all beyond invective.

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