Thursday, August 6, 2009

In the eyes of the law

So that's it. One of the most heartbreaking, bitter and divise chapters of recent Irish history ran its full course on Wednesday when 44-year-old Pearse McCauley and 52-year-old Kevin Walsh walked out of Castlerea prison in Roscommon.

The last of the men convicted of the manslaughter of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996 have received their freedom. The rule of law has been served. But the bitterness of what these men did and the grief for the life that they took will last longer than the minutes and hours of any prison sentence.

Not since the murder of Mayor George Clancy and ex-Mayor Michael O'Callaghan on March 7 1921 had Limerick been so brutally forced to confront such intimate violence, be it in the name of national independence or the crimes of subversives.

Of course, by June 1996 too many people in Northern Ireland had endured lifetimes of fire and murder. But the peace of Main Street, Adare and the stillness of our opinions in the Republic were broken that day.

When societies and nations and regions are torn apart by endless struggle, their wars become self-fulfilling. The rape of Darfur, the destruction of Gaza City, the burning of West Belfast. If we allow it, they become inevitable monuments to human failure, over and over again.

People will forever need cold, personal examples to shock them out of apathy. What is already emerging as the symbol fo the recent Iranian protests - the pictures of 400,000 people gathered at the foot of the Azadi monument in Tehran, or the video of Neda Agha-Soltan being shot through her chest and bleeding to death?

Jerry McCabe's killing, coming as it did at a time when the IRA was fracturing and the shape of post-Troubles politics was beginning to form, was the example that a mute and uncertain Irish civil society needed to convince itself that peace, and nothing else, was required.

No doubt McCabe, the understated family man from the Ennis Road who enjoyed his golf, would not like anyone to consider him a martyr. His life and death were more about duty, respect and the quiet dignity a man can earn from national service.

But 13 years later, as the last of his killers walk free, that is how we must consider him. In an Ireland where Sinn Fein seek a path into the mainstream while collecting convicted IRA killers from outside of prisons, they as much as anyone should remember that visible paths to peace are the only ways forward that the Irish people will accept anymore.

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