Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: Sending shiver down spine of politics

It would be wrong to separate the two brutal murders which occurred over a 48-hour period in the South at the weekend.

Whatever the different motivations behind these respective callous killings, the appalling lack of respect for human life is quite shocking.

The gangland hit on Dublin criminal John Daly and the beating to death of Paul Quinn in Co Monaghan cannot merely be put down as further statistics in areas with troubled histories with the law.

These murders were carried out by gangs who believe they can carry out such acts with apparent impunity and terrorise the communities in which they operate.

Mr Quinn's killing is all the more sinister as it is a throwback to what was thought to be a bygone era.

Both these murders have profound political consequences.

The murder of the senior gangland figure in Finglas was the seventeenth gun murder since the start of the year, the Republic's Labour Party pointed out.

So much for the "last sting of the dying wasp" predicted, two years ago, by Michael McDowell.

Remember him.

Labour's Pat Rabbitte said what is of particular concern is the resurgence of gangland killings is happening at a time when conviction rates are falling further. No wonder criminals now think they can get away with shooting an unarmed garda in broad daylight.

The latest murder won't be described as a watershed but it will spark an initial reaction from the Government in the south in an effort to be seen to be tough on crime. Up on the border, a community that went through decades of suffering is again thrust back into the spotlight.

Warnings from the DUP that Northern Ireland's powersharing government is under threat, if the IRA was involved in the killing, serve to show how fragile the arrangement is as it continues to bed down. However, it's highly unlikely unionists are going to walk over this issue, particularly as the direct involvement of the Republican movement probably won't be proven.

The certainty with which Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were able to state there was no Republican involvement is nothing new.

Sinn Fein was down this route before with the Colombia Three and the killers of Robert McCartney.

The party's duplicity on those occasions and reluctance to come straight out and react as any organisation with a respect for the rule of law would, means there is still a deal of trust to be built up before they are taken seriously.

Mr Adams' condemnation of the murder, description of the perpetrators as criminals and appeal for those with information to go directly to the gardai and PSNI still takes a lot of getting used to.

It's welcome nonetheless.

In a sign of the changed times, Mr McGuinness, in his capacity as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, had been briefed by the Garda Commissioner and PSNI chief constable on the killing.

Sinn Fein can't be blamed for the actions of every thug engaged in smuggling along the border.

But these criminals would appear to have shared a common background.

While they may no longer be acting as the IRA, the old boys' network has thrown them together.

The IRA activities tolerated for so long by Sinn Fein means that old habits die hard and some individuals are conditioned to feeling that beating someone to death is acceptable behaviour.

It isn't.

The killing of Mr Quinn demands a police response and the PSNI and gardai are working together to apprehend the killers.

Unfortunately the conspiracy of silence and turning a blind eye, combined with abject fear of recriminations for giving information, make the task all the more difficult. Old habits die hard.

Wherever there is a border with different tax regimes on either side, criminality will occur.

Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh last night spoke of the concerns of residents from border towns on both sides of the border and called for greater co-operation between the gardai and PSNI.

The Donegal North-East TD highlighted a measure that might well make a difference. "Criminals still feel they can use the border for their own criminal ends.

"It's high time the gardai and the PSNI were allowed to cross the border while in pursuit of criminals.

" We need to send a clear message to criminals that crossing the border won't make them immune to arrest," he said.

The apparent support of the DUP for this solution to cutting off the cross-border escape route shows that even in this new era, public worries about criminal activity is a 32-county phenomenon. Communities are demanding action and seeking leadership, whether it's being delivered or not.

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