Saturday, August 15, 1998, is a day ingrained on my memory. It was the low point in my tenure as Taoiseach. It was one of the darkest days in the history of this island.
At 3.10pm, a terrorist bomb |exploded in Omagh and the outcome was death, suffering, grief and horror.
Over a decade on from the evil of that terrible day, dissident |republicans have again sought to drag this island backwards into a mire of futile bloodshed and violence.
They will not succeed. The people of this island have chosen peace and we will not be deterred.
Those responsible for the murders of Sapper Mark Quinsey and Sapper Cengiz Azimkar at Massereene Barracks in Antrim, and of Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, as well as the |injuries inflicted on others in those attacks, are beneath contempt.
They have no mandate and no respect for democracy. They must be apprehended and face the full rigours of the law.
I take this opportunity to again express my deepest sympathies to the families, friends and colleagues of the brave men heinously killed in the course of their duties.
Paradoxically, the evil act has brought forth an outpouring of |decency, of solidarity and of strongly-shared conviction throughout the island. The widespread revulsion for the killings has shown how deeply the cause of peace has taken root. It shows that the overwhelming majority of people do not want to return to the era of murder and mayhem which so many people have worked hard to consign to the dustbin of history.
It was heartening this week to see people across the island and across the political spectrum stand shoulder to shoulder against the terrorists. There is a real strength in this unity.
As a people, we have strongly conveyed — by our words, by our prayers and by peaceful protest — our heartfelt sympathy for the victims and our unequivocal outrage at the murderers.
Amid the grief and the pain, we have seen sincere and significant statements and actions that give us hope for the future. There has been an unprecedented political coming together in condemnation of the killings by the Irish and British governments, the members of Oireachtas Eireann, the members of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, democratic representatives and all the people of this island, and friends of Ireland around the world, in full support of the democratic institutions and in |absolute opposition to violent |attempts to undermine the Peace Process.
This is a clear example of political leadership stepping up to the plate. It represents the will, democratically expressed, north and south, of all the people of Ireland to live together in peace and harmony. That is far more powerful than any words of hatred or any weapon of terror.
The perpetrators of these brutal killings have no legitimacy. They carried out their vile actions because they have no respect for the sovereign wishes of the Irish people. Such people are not republicans. They besmirch that noble philosophy.
The killings of the two young soldiers and the PSNI constable starkly conflict with what the people of Ireland voted for in the Good Friday Agreement. But, of course, these attacks were intended as part of a direct assault on that agreement, and on democracy itself. The clear objective of the so-called Real IRA and the so-called Continuity IRA is to undo all the progress of a generation by stimulating fear and |hatred and more violence.
It is the responsibility of democratic society to meet the challenge posed by this lunatic minority head-on.
No terrorist fringe group can be allowed to dictate to the Irish people or to undermine our right to live together in peace and harmony. Those who organise and carry out terror must be crushed by using — and, if needs be, |expanding — the full legislative machinery for dealing with terrorist groups.
Everyone on this island has a moral obligation to offer unequivocal support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana in their efforts to |apprehend the criminals who have caused such human suffering and sullied the name of Ireland abroad at a critical time for our island.
History has shown us that Irish unity can not be built on pain and violence.
Those who carried out these murders undermine the cause they claim to espouse.
James Connolly, who was a true republican, used to say that Ireland meant nothing to him without its people and, for that reason, a union of people must take precedence over any territorial union.
Dissident republicans should reflect on this and also on the tragic words of Kate Carroll, the widow of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll: “A good husband has been taken away from me and my life has been destroyed. And what for? A piece of land that my husband is only going to get six feet of.”
Shame on the murderers. You cannot take on the people of Ireland and win.
Bertie Ahern is a Fianna Fail TD for Dublin Central