The enormity of the brutal slayings carried out by dissident republicans weighed heavy over the House of Commons yesterday.
Prime Minister’s Questions, legendary for its verbal maulings, was yesterday a muted and respectful event.
Gordon Brown opened with tributes to Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, shot dead on Saturday, and Constable Stephen Carroll, who was killed on Monday night.
Although the Government is keen to be seen to let Stormont take the lead in responding to the murders, the prime minister was resolute in his determination to bring the killers to justice.
“The unity against violence of the people and their representatives; the defiance and the determination to stand up to the evil and criminal violence; and the unyielding resolution to say with one voice that the peace that the people of Northern Ireland are building no murderers should ever be allowed to destroy,” he said.
He added: “Out of tragedy we are seeing a unity which shows the determination that while a few murderers may try to disrupt the process — the whole of the people of Northern Ireland want not only to see justice done but to send a message that the political process is here to stay and is working.”
The sombre mood was reinforced by David Cameron’s reappearance in the House — the first time since the death of his son Ivan.
“Northern Ireland is not on the brink, is not staring into the abyss, but instead needs effective policing, the co-operation of the public and the measured reaction of politicians,” Mr Cameron said.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said on behalf of his party: “Our hearts go out to the families of the victims, though they harden against their murderers.
“Their violence must not, will not, divide the people of Northern Ireland.
“Instead it will strengthen their resolve to live their lives in peace and that is the unwavering message of the dignified demonstrations taking place in Northern Ireland today.”
SDLP Leader Mark Durkan said the lesson of Monday night is that “the real patriots serving the peace of the new Ireland were Constable Carroll and his colleagues, who went to answer the call of a woman in distress, not those who brutally murdered him.”
The implications of the weekend atrocities and how, politically, to steer Northern Ireland through it dominated the half hour session. David Simpson, however, cut through the political ramifications to lay bare the tragic human tale behind it.
The Upper Bann MP said: “I had the sad task of visiting the home and his wife and family are heartbroken; they are resolute that Northern Ireland must move forward.”
Meanwhile in Dublin, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen vowed that those who carried out the murders “will not succeed and cannot succeed”.
He said that unity across the island would overcome the evil minority that wanted to drag everyone back to the past. And he insisted that the peace process would remain “unshakeable”.
Speaking during an all-party Dail motion condemning the killings, Mr Cowen said the island resolved to be reconciled, not divided.
“Those actions are futile and tragic. The people to whom I refer cannot and will not succeed,” Mr Cowen said.
“Everybody is absolutely united. The people and all of their democratic representatives reject this violence,” he added.