It would not be unexpected for Sinn Fein to criticise the prosecution and jailing of a former republican for an historic crime as counter-productive or unhelpful to attempts to find a way of dealing with the terrible legacies of the past. But the party's South Derry MLA Ian Milne reached a new low in insensitivity yesterday when he described the jailing of a man for killing a police officer as vindictive.
Seamus Kearney was convicted of the murder in 1981 of Reserve Constable John Proctor as he left the hospital where his wife had just given birth to their son a few days earlier. She had walked him to the door and was waiting at the window to wave him goodbye when she heard the deadly fusillade of shots which killed him. Can Mr Milne not appreciate how hurtful his words must be to that lady or how unacceptable to the public at large his comments are?
Just over a week ago Attorney General John Larkin called for an end to such historic prosecutions. This newspaper recognised the force of his argument that such prosecutions grow more rare and accepted his right to put forward what proved an unpopular view, creating a debate which needs to be held. But Constable Proctor's widow, June, delivered an equally compelling argument after Mr Kearney's conviction. She eloquently and passionately defended his prosecution and felt that his conviction – albeit that it will probably result in him only serving two years in jail – gave her and her family a sense of justice, enabling them to move forward.
Those are the words of someone who has suffered grievously at the hands of terrorism and it is clear that even 32 years later the pain of loss has not been eased.
There are thousands more like her in our society and many of them will share her desire to see their loved ones' killers in the dock. Their voices carry a potency that is impossible to ignore.