Apology shows SF leader's convoluted sense of reality


‘A garda has been shot,’ is the breaking news headline dreaded by all with someone in the force. When we hear it we hold our breath until the newsreader reveals where it happened and then guiltily breathe a sigh of relief that it is some place other than where our loved ones are stationed. For the family of Adrian Donohoe the nightmare feared by every Garda family became a brutal reality in Louth last Friday night.

Anyone who has attended a Garda passing-out ceremony in Templemore will confirm that it’s a terrific day. The uniforms and marching routines give the event additional pomp and ceremony.

There are moments during the proceedings, however, when you realise it is no ordinary graduation. It sinks in that by choosing a policing career these graduates are putting themselves in harm’s way – in the line of fire. As gardaí they are expected, and expect of themselves – even when off-duty perhaps – to be the first to rescue those in danger, assist those in distress, pursue the speeding driver and confront the aggressive perpetrator.

One of the poignant moments at a Templemore graduation is when the Gary Sheehan Memorial Medal is presented to the best all-round probationer. It is awarded to the recruit who, as well as distinguishing him or herself in the academic field, has contributed significantly to life at the Garda College and to the stations and communities where they served during their training period.

The medal commemorates recruit Garda Gary Sheehan who, along with Private Patrick Kelly, was shot dead by the Provisional IRA in a wood in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, on December 16th, 1983. They were part of a search operation to release kidnapped businessman Don Tidey.

I remember where I was when I heard that Gary Sheehan and Private Kelly had been shot. It had the effect of routing me from simplistic teenage notions that Provisional IRA members were in some way champions of freedom, fighting a foreign power. The Tidey kidnapping was an IRA fundraising effort and it was prepared to kill anyone who got in its way.

The IRA also killed a garda during a fundraising operation in Adare on June 7th, 1996. On that morning IRA members fired 15 rounds from an AK 47 at two Garda detectives. One of them, Jerry McCabe, was shot three times and killed. His partner Ben O’Sullivan was seriously injured. The IRA, and Sinn Féin on its behalf, denied involvement.

On Monday, June 11th, 1996, Sinn Féin’s then vice-president Pat Doherty on RTÉ’s Question and Answers programme refused to condemn the killing and said he believed the IRA statement which categorically denied involvement in the Adare shootings. On the same night on the BBC Newsnight programme Martin McGuinness, who was well placed to know better, expressed certainty that the IRA’s statement of non-involvement was true.

In the following years, however, Sinn Féin gradually changed its position. The IRA eventually accepted one of its units was involved but claimed it had operated without authorisation. Four IRA members were arrested and put on trial for the murder of a garda. At the trial two key witnesses withdrew their intended evidence citing IRA intimidation and the Director of Public Prosecutions had no option but to accept manslaughter pleas.

Then in a further shift in position Sinn Féin representatives, and Martin Ferris in particular, became the cheerleaders in chief for their early release.

Ultimately, in the lead-in to St Patrick’s Day’s in 2005, Sinn Féin again changed tack. Adams and others were being cold-shouldered by Senator Ted Kennedy and other leading Irish-Americans because of the IRA’s involvement in crime, including the Northern Bank robbery, Robert McCartney’s murder, and because of its failure to fully disarm.

That week the McCabe killers issued a statement from prison saying they did not want their release to be part of further negotiations with the Irish government. In so doing they were seeking to make a virtue of reality since the minister for justice Michael McDowell and even Bertie Ahern had already ruled it out.

In their statement the killers also said they deeply regretted and apologised for the hurt and grief they caused to the McCabe and O’Sullivan families. McCabe’s widow Ann dismissed the IRA’s apology as sickening. “It means absolutely nothing,” she told the Washington Post.

This week Adams is again backed into a political corner and has sought to construct a shield of apology. The similarities between the McCabe killing and that of Garda Donohoe are chilling – although there is no suggestion the IRA is involved.

As party leaders paid Dáil tributes to Garda Donohoe, Adams, who claims he was never in the IRA, apologised on behalf of the IRA for a killing committed by members of the IRA who, although disowned by the IRA at the time, are now celebrated as IRA heroes. It illustrates how convoluted the Sinn Féin leader’s version of reality has had to become.

Adams also apologised to families of “other members of the State forces” killed by republicans. It was a revealing choice of vocabulary. The rest of us do not put that distance between us and members of the Garda Síochána. We do not see Gary Sheehan and Jerry McCabe as part of “State forces”. To us they were like Adrian Donohoe – protectors of our peace shot down in the service of our community.

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