Category: Asset 4Editorial

The words we should never have to hear

April 14, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Reporters of a certain age will tell you of a time in the Northern Ireland conflict when words of condemnation scarcely had time to dry on the page before being pushed aside by yet newer words of condemnation.  For those of a younger age, words of condemnation are a relatively unfamiliar phenomenon.   When I was a young reporter in Dublin I would read these words often, but rarely had to write them.  That’s because Northern Ireland was not my beat. My paper had a Belfast office for that.  Of course, the affairs of the troubled six would invariably spill over into the other 26, so it was not entirely a case of being removed from the kind of words that seemed so depressingly familiar that you could almost recite them in advance, like the Hail Mary, or the Our Father. When I came to America, I was confronted with an irony.  Now 3,000 miles removed from the island of my birth, I was required to write about events in its north-eastern corner with far greater frequency than was the case just a hundred miles down the road from Belfast. So I became used to reporting and transcribing words of condemnation just about every time someone committed a foul deed in the name of whatever. It was inevitable that, from time to time, or maybe every time, I would wonder if these words really did any good, have any affect at all on those who were inflicting violence on others. Did they ever even read them? But of course the words of condemnation are not entirely aimed at those who stand condemned. They are for the politicians, clergy and others who are required to utter them; they are for the grieving families, and they are for those in wider society who need to be reassured that we have not all gone completely over the edge into some atavistic pit. You only have to consider it for a moment; what if nothing was said at all? What if the death of Constable Ronan Kerr was met with just factual reporting and nothing more? That would be the end of it, for all of us.  So when the news of Kerr’s awful end flashed across the Atlantic I knew that in politicial offices in Washington and elsewhere around the United States, words of condemnation would be taking form, sadly, depressingly, yet again. The words themselves are familiar, and the names behind them too.  Irish America has long planted its flag on the side of the peace process and while there once might have been words of condemnation directed at government and arms of government, as well as paramilitaries, the focus in more recent times has been almost entirely on those who would break the peace from without.    So the words began to appear by email.  “The perpetrators of this cowardly act represent the failures of the past, and their actions run counter to the achievements, aspirations, and collective will of the people of Northern Ireland,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “The Friends of Ireland Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives unequivocally condemns in the strongest possible terms the cowardly murder of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh, Northern Ireland.  “We salute the strong statement of condemnation by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and stand in solidarity with the British and Irish Governments and the PSNI and Garda. The United States Congress and the Irish-American community stand as one in full support of the peace process and condemn all political violence,” said the Friends group, which is chaired by Congressman Peter King, a man who well remembers the days when words of condemnation were close to daily.  “Those responsible for this murder are cowards. If these criminals think they are going to turn back the clock and stop the change that is happening across Northern Ireland they are mistaken. They have no support on the island of Ireland and they have no support in the United States of America. Quite simply, they are on the wrong side of history. And they must be brought to justice,” said Congressman Richard Neal, who saw fit to sign the Friends statement, and then say more on his own account. “We strongly condemn the killing of Ronan Kerr in Omagh and send our deepest condolences to his family. The murder of a young man who was doing nothing more than fulfilling his duty to serve and protect the people cannot be allowed to stand. The people of the North have made it clear many times over that they want peace. Attacks on public servants only undermine a brighter future for everyone in Northern Ireland,” said the co-chairs of the congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs. These statements are unequivocal. But they are also a reminder of another, darker, time.  As such, they stand out with a particular clarity because they have not been said much in most recent times.  They had, blessedly, gathered some dust.  But with a young man’s agonizing death, damn it, they had to be dusted off.

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