having heavily endorsed the Belfast Agreement with
its accelerated release scheme for Northern Ireland's
paramilitary inmates, the people of the Republic
remain steadfastly opposed to early release for
the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe.
the rarefied atmosphere of a college debating society
or some other such setting divorced from the real
world, a case could easily be made to support a
charge of hypocrisy - but it won't be made by me.
won't be any finger-pointing from this direction:
if I was to do that, I would be a hypocrite myself.
For I have been heartened by the attitude of the
people of the Republic.
have reacted in exactly the way citizens of a normal,
properly functioning democratic state should when
faced with the prospect of favourable treatment
for the cold-blooded killers of an officer of the
law (their officer, upholding their law), and I'm
glad they have.
if Jerry McCabe had been one of hundreds of police
officers murdered in the line of duty, as was the
case in Northern Ireland, the general reaction would
have been different. In those circumstances, probably
few people besides the McCabe family, police colleagues,
bereaved relatives of other officers and opportunistic
politicians would be kicking up.
is only so much pain, suffering and brutality a
society can absorb before the natural survival mechanism
of human adaptability kicks in: individuals then
become so desensitised that tragedies need, progressively,
to hit closer and closer to home to have any real
Garda Jerry McCabe wasn't just one of many, and
the people of the Republic were not robbed of their
ability properly to empathise.
living in close proximity to a brutal conflict for
nigh on 30 years, neither have they so far lost
touch with political reality.
contrast, the prolonged period of violent upheaval
in Northern Ireland has resulted in legal, democratic
and even moral points of reference having shifted,
disappeared or been distorted to such an extent
that notions of legality or right and wrong are
now something - for the elites at least - which
can be made up as you go along.
can, in simple terms, be defined as that which happens
on a regular basis, and so decades of violence and
criminality have, to a frightening degree, come
to be accepted as the norm. Let's hope, for all
our sakes, that things do not go the same way in
it is no exaggeration to say that it is there that
the survival or otherwise of recognisable democracy
on this island will over the next few years be decided.
For the foreseeable future, at least, Northern Ireland
has been lost.
order to end the conflict, we gambled - rightly,
I believe - on opening up the political mainstream,
including executive office, to those who were formerly
excluded because of their links to paramilitary
organisations. Up to this point, at least, the gamble
has foundered on a not unreason-able
assumption at the time that former combatants, as
they moved into the mainstream, would leave terrorism
and criminality behind. Quite simply, as the raid
on the Northern Bank and a host of other incidents
clearly show, they haven't.
once they had only paramilitary power, now, with
feet firmly planted in both camps, they have substantial
political clout as well. Instead of creating the
inclusive democracy we had hoped for, we are now
closer to having built a mafia state. In future
years, Northern Ireland may be retrieved, but at
the moment even the most optimistic among us are
struggling to find a bright spot on the horizon.
considered from a wider perspective, it is clear
that such a gamble could afford to be taken in Northern
Ireland for reasons that certainly do not apply
to the Republic. For a start, with the Irish Sea
and a lot more besides forming a natural barrier
between us and the rest of the United Kingdom, irrespective
of how things panned out in Northern Ireland, there
was never any chance of the wider body politic becoming
well as that, with ultimate sovereignty for Northern
Ireland lying at Westminster, the British government
could, as they have often demonstrated, call a halt
to proceedings any time they chose. The Republic
enjoys no such safeguards. If the electorate there
takes a gamble on electing paramilitaries into positions
of power, the entire body politic is at stake. Further,
as a sovereign state, they have no Big Brother who
can come to their rescue if things go the same way
as in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has, for these past few years,
been another kind of testing ground is only now
beginning to become clear as well.
republicanism was merely practising and honing its
craft in Northern Ireland before launching an assault
on its real target - the Republic.
in mind that power can corrupt the best of us, if
the electorate of the Republic have any doubts about
how much is at stake, they need only look northwards
to see what power can do to the already corrupt.
with permission of the author.