|The widow of murdered Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, Caroline Donohoe,
leaves St Joseph's the Redemptorists Church in Dundalk after his funeral Mass last week.
The callous, almost casual, murder of a detective Garda (police officer) here more than a week ago united the country in outrage and grief. It also made it a very uncomfortable week for the reformed IRA gunmen in Sinn Fein who now sit in the Dail (Parliament).
Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe was part of one of the usual two-man security details that accompany significant cash transfers here. This involves two armed detectives in a car who accompany the cash vans as they do their rounds transferring money between bank branches and savings and loans offices, post offices, credit unions and so on.
In this case, the two detectives were guarding a cash transfer to the bank from a credit union at Lordship, a village just outside Dundalk in Co. Louth. When Donohoe saw someone approaching the person carrying the cash he got out of his car to check, but as he got near he was shot in the head at close range by a raider with a shotgun. As far as we know there was no warning.
Donohoe had not even taken out his gun. It was a summary execution, immediate and instantaneous. It was this almost casual killing of a Garda that made it even more of a shock to people all over the country here.
It seemed to sum up just how much our society has changed, how violent and dangerous this country has become.
Robberies and burglaries these days are routinely accompanied by a level of savage violence, often inflicted on victims who are old or isolated in rural areas.
This shocking murder seemed to fit the pattern. The raider, from what we know, could have disarmed Donohoe. Instead, almost as casually as you would swat a fly, he blasted him with the shotgun at point blank range.
The five man gang got away and their burnt out car was found on the other side of the border, near the town of Keady in South Armagh. This is the famous bandit country, during The Troubles an area of fierce resistance against "the Brits."
These days it's home to criminal gangs, "dissident" Republicans and young men who can fit either description, depending on what they are up to. Smuggling fuel, cigarettes, drugs and other things across the border is still big business, as it has been for decades.
And ordinary criminality is rife, since the border offers a convenient getaway in either direction in spite of the increased cooperation between the Gardai in the south and the PSNI in the North.
The cross-Border gang who Gardai believe murdered Donohoe are at the criminal end of the chain and are mainly from South Armagh. They were probably the same gang who hit the Lordship Credit Union a year ago and got away with around €60,000.
Low level criminals like this often repeat themselves. This time they got only €4,000, which somehow added to the tragedy.
For that paltry sum they killed a young Garda who was an exemplary member of the force, a married man with kids who was popular with everyone in the area and deeply involved with the local community (a talented footballer, he trained kids in his local GAA club).
His funeral last week saw a massive turnout not only of his fellow Gardai but of all sections of Irish society from the president down. It was a powerful expression of the revulsion felt across the country, a national rejection of this kind of thuggery, whether cloaked in republicanism or not.
Which brings us to the discomfort of Gerry Adams and the other Sinn Fein members of the Dail last week. The murder of Donohoe brought back vivid memories of the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe who was shot by an IRA gang robbing a cash van outside a post office in Adare, Co. Limerick in 1996.
The similarities were striking. McCabe was also one of a two-man armed Garda security detail in a car with the cash van. As with Donohue, he was given no chance by the gunmen.
Obviously aware of the political damage this could do to him and Sinn Fein, Adams last week in the Dail apologized to McCabe's family. It was 17 years too late.
And whether genuine or not, it was also hypocritical. Why wait so long to apologize and then do it in the week after Donohoe was murdered?
Because Adams, a TD (member of the Dail) for Louth where the Donohoe murder happened, could feel the icy wind of revulsion blowing around him.
Not only was it 17 years too late, but those of us with long memories found it hard to take at face value, given what Adams and Martin McGuinness got up to in the aftermath of the McCabe murder.
Back then, cash raids were part of the IRA's “fundraising” and justified as that, even though the gangs who carried them out did not necessarily pass on all of the proceeds to the "movement."
Most of the "fundraising" happened in the North, but there were occasional examples of it in the south as well, the raid in which McCabe died being an example. At the time, Adams and McGuinness refused to admit that the McCabe killing was the responsibility of the IRA, saying that the raid had not been sanctioned, etc.
Mind you, this did not stop them engineering the intimidation of the jury when five men were brought to trial. As a result, at the last minute the charge was changed from murder to manslaughter to get convictions.
Again, mainly because of pressure from Adams and Co the five guilty men were eventually moved to a low security prison where they were housed in units that were more like apartments, for which they had their own door keys and where they were able to organize their own time, enjoy the garden, order in takeaways and so on.
And of course, despite saying all along that these Garda killers would not be freed under the Good Friday Agreement settlement for the North, the Irish authorities eventually gave in to pressure from Adams and Sinn Fein and they were released.
It is in that wider context that we need to weigh up the value of the Adams apology last week to the McCabe family. Given what McCabe's widow Ann went through over the years as a result of the Sinn Fein campaign to get her husband's killers released, it was hard to take. As well as being 17 years too late.
Coincidentally, the murder of Donohoe came at a time when the government is implementing a rationalization and modernization plan for the Gardai. Part of this is the immediate closure of 100 Garda stations in small villages around the country.
This has caused an outcry because of the growing number of attacks and burglaries on vulnerable people in isolated rural areas, often elderly people. As mentioned above, some of these attacks have been carried out with extreme violence, with very disturbing pictures in the papers of old people who have been beaten up as thieves forced them to give up any cash in the house.
This has become a real problem, with criminal gangs roaming the country in powerful cars, using the motorway system to get away quickly. Some traveler gangs were involved, but more recently "ordinary" criminal gangs from the cities have joined in to benefit from the easy pickings. (With all the bad publicity the banks have been getting some old people no longer trust them and prefer to keep their savings hidden in their houses, and the gangs know this.)
The closure of many rural Garda stations is disturbing for people in these areas. But the government has to cut spending and the Gardai cannot be an exception.
The reality is that policing in Ireland has to change to get the most value for tax money and to reflect the changes in Irish society. Most of the Garda stations being closed were one-man operations which were only manned for a few hours in the morning each day. And they gave no protection against the highly mobile gangs which so many old people fear.
We also have far too many Gardai doing clerical work, stamping forms, issuing permits and so on, stuck in their stations instead of being out fighting crime.
Despite all the arguments about keeping rural stations open, the fact is that we have significantly more police stations here per head of population than they have in most European countries, including our nearest neighbors. We also have an overall police force which compares favorably in size with places like Wales and Scotland, although we don't have as many police out on the job because of doing paper work in the stations.
None of this was a factor in the death of Donohoe. That was both a tragedy and an outrage.
It was also a wake-up call. The aftermath of decades of cross-border IRA criminality has left a legacy behind that we still have to confront.