Apology greeted by icy silence in chamber


Dáil SketchThat’s that, so.

It took nearly two decades for him to do it, but Gerry Adams has finally apologised for the shooting dead by republicans of Det Garda Jerry McCabe in Limerick in 1996.

Another box ticked on the road, going forward.

The Sinn Féin leader won’t have been expecting any thanks for this unexpected declaration in the Dáil yesterday afternoon, welcome as it might be.

Which is just as well, as his words were greeted by icy silence in the chamber.

The House had been hearing expressions of sympathy on the murder last Friday in Dundalk of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe. He died in similar circumstances to Jerry McCabe: one man gunned down by criminals robbing a post office, the other by thugs raiding a credit union branch.

The Dáil benches quickly filled as deputies came to the chamber to express their solidarity in the face of this heinous crime. The depth of their revulsion was almost palpable.

The party leaders were first to speak. The Taoiseach, then the Tánaiste, then the Fianna Fáil leader, eloquent in their expressions of anger and condemnation as they echoed the thoughts of a nation sickened by the murder of a serving garda and family man.

“Today I know I speak for everybody in this country and in this House, because today our nation speaks as one,” said Enda Kenny.

He pledged that everything possible will be done to hunt down the perpetrators and bring them to justice. “We cannot and will not rest until we have done so.”

There was a brittle tension in the air as he spoke, a raw edge to the proceedings. Like people were holding their breath, waiting.

“An attack on a member of the Garda Síochána is an attack on all of us,” said Eamon Gilmore, speaking of “a man who lived for the ideals of public service and service to the community”.

Micheál Martin spoke of the nation’s deep shock at the news of “the cold-blooded slaying” of Det Garda Donohoe. “The State has suffered a direct attack. There is something truly harrowing about young children being robbed of their father at such a fragile age.”

Many of the politicians had experienced this situation before. Some were experiencing that communal feeling of shock and sorrow for the first time as public representatives.

And yet, there was something deeper about what was taking place in the Dáil chamber. You could feel it.

It was because of the presence of Sinn Féin, and in particular, its leader Gerry Adams and, sitting behind him, the TD for Kerry South, Martin Ferris.

Down through the years, through a miasma of double-speak and refusals to condemn, Adams had refused to apologise outright for the IRA’s murder of Det Garda McCabe in Adare. And when his killers were released from Castlereagh jail in 2009, a smiling Ferris was waiting at the gates to drive them away.

These things are not easily forgotten, even if the same men helped bring about the peace process and have embraced democracy.

When the other leaders recalled the murder of Jerry McCabe, accusing eyes burned across at the Sinn Féin benches.

The Leas Cheann Comhairle called next on Gerry Adams. He seemed nervous as he waited his turn to speak, studying his script; Martin Ferris seemed uncomfortable as he shifted in his seat.

The Sinn Féin leader took a drink of water and got to his feet.

You could have cut the air with a knife. Across the floor, through Fine Gael to the Labour Party and over to the Technical Group, an awkward silence prevailed.

Nobody, not even the dyed-in-the-wool hecklers, made a sound.

“I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe,” began Adams. “On my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin I want to express especially our solidarity and sincerest condolences to Adrian’s wife Caroline and his children, Amy and Niall.”

The closed body language of the deputies opposite said it all. Most chose not to look at him. Arms folded, jaws clenched.

The Sinn Féin deputy for Louth spoke of how Det Garda Donohoe “was a valued member of our local community” and told of how his killing had shocked the community in the Cooley area.

When he said the death of Adrian Donohoe has “also provoked memories of the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe and the wounding of Garda Ben O’Sullivan in June 1996”, the chamber took a sharp intake of breath.

“I want to apologise to Mrs McCabe and the McCabe family, and to Garda Ben O’Sullivan and to the families of other members of the State forces who were killed by republicans in the course of the conflict. I am very sorry for the pain and loss inflicted on those families. No words of mine can remove that hurt. Dreadful deeds cannot be undone.”

Deputy Adams finished with an appeal to people who might have any information to come forward to the Garda or the PSNI.

He said his thoughts and prayers are now with the Donohoe family.

And that was it.

There wasn’t a word from anyone, including the grave-faced Sinn Féin TDs. He sat down. The sullen, cold silence remained.

Afterwards, Government deputies shrugged and wondered why a man who insists he was never a member of the IRA would apologise on behalf of comrades he never had. And others wondered what “conflict” had been taking place in the quiet Limerick town of Adare when Jerry McCabe was callously gunned down.

Then they shook their heads and said the apology had to be welcomed.

It’s the only way. They know it. But you could see it stuck in the craw nonetheless.