When did guns become part of the landscape?

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

QUESTION:Is Ireland becoming complacent about the level of gun crime?

In the days that followed the shooting dead of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe, one of the clearest voices was that of PJ Stone, the general secretary of the Garda Representative Association, which represents rank and file members of the force.

He said gardaí felt a sense of fear and trepidation when going about their work.

He suggested the shooting dead of a colleague, coming as resources were being cut and the force was being “dismantled”, needed to be answered with more than political rhetoric.

“What happens if this happens again next week? When does the rhetoric stop? Have we become oblivious to the gangland killings – that killing is something that is accepted?”

There is perhaps some truth in his words.

While the murder of Det Garda Donohoe shocked the country and has dominated the media and public debate ever since, there has not been the same level of response that followed the shooting dead of Det Garda Jerry McCabe and crime journalist Veronica Guerin within weeks of each other in the summer of 1996.

After those murders the government of the day was put under massive pressure to hit back hard against those who would so brazenly challenge the authority of the State.

The Criminal Assets Bureau was established and a major crackdown began on organised and paramilitary crime. It continued for a number of years.

Since the summer of 1996, Ireland has been through an economic boom that spawned an unprecedented explosion in the drugs trade. Gangland feuds have emerged in all parts of the country, but are worst in Dublin and Limerick. Some gangs have killed between 15 and 20 in the past 10 to 15 years. A young man involved in organised crime being shot by a rival does not have the impact on the national consciousness it would have had a decade ago.

Crime rates, including gun crime, are falling and the public has perhaps come to accept the futility of calling for resources to fight any issue when they know in their hearts the country is broke.

It was clear in the past week that the political classes did not see this as a Jerry McCabe moment or a Veronica Guerin watershed.

Even in a week when a Garda member was killed, the answer to PJ Stone’s question as to whether gun violence appears to be more accepted nowadays than previously seems to be yes.