Muarice Hayes is less than sanguine about the prospects of public agitation in getting justice for the family and friends of Paul Quinn, or the killers of Raymond McCord. Part of the difficulty arises, he argues, from the fact of a thirty year conflict in which, throughout a significant swathe of working class communities, the most normal checks and balances of law and order were routinely shunned for paramilitary forms of retribution. Largely, these remained uncontroversial when targeting the ‘other’, but it has proved highly destructive of moral values, particularly when directly inwardly towards their own communities:
It is not public meetings which will bring convictions, or public profession of help for the Garda, but the willingness of those who know what happened to stand up in court and give evidence on oath. They will not do so unless they are secure in the knowledge that the State can, and will, protect them from retaliation, and that the community will save them from boycott.
A recent Appeal Court judgement affirming the continuing need to protect the anonymity of jurors, even in a tax-related case in the area, shows the extent of the problem.
What the events illustrate is a society (and not only in South Armagh) in the trauma of emerging from years of conflict and lawlessness, in which moral compasses were lost on all sides, and ends were held to justify means, however brutal and destructive of moral values.
Even allowing for the fact that some people involved do have a political motivation of embarrassing Sinn Fein in government, or to prevent or delay the devolution of policing powers, it is clear that the passage from violent conflict to normal democratic processes is not going to be easy.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty