The response to Con. Kerr’s murder must be measured yet decisive

So we have another murder of a police officer here in Northern Ireland: Ronan Kerr’s name is added to the list of people killed, not taking part in military activities, for police officers are assuredly civilians, not soldiers; but in his case it seems getting into his own private car. In a time of supposed peace, a young man involved in a peaceful occupation, who was not even working was treated as that most appalling and indeed perverse of euphemisms “a legitimate target.”

We should, however, not be surprised at this murder: the dissident republicans have been trying to murder people, especially police officers for some years; Catholic police officers even more so. The fact that the supposed opponents of what they call the sectarian state of Northern Ireland make a speciality of targeting police officers of the Catholic faith is a particular inditement of their mentality and stands testament to their sectarian bigotry being every bit as bad as that of the loyalist terrorists.

Murdering someone is of course not especially difficult: planting a bomb under a car requires presumably some knowledge of how to make a bomb but putting it there and arming it is probably something which any of us could be taught to do in five minutes. It requires little skill and knowledge and much less bravery. It does, however, require a cowardly, hate filled intent. This was no mindless act: no it was an act of calculated wickedness. The “legitimate target” was chosen for his decision to join an honourable profession, he was singled out for his religious faith and a time and place were chosen whereby he could be targeted with the maximum chance of his murder and the minimum risk to his murderers and their assistants.

Most police officers I know now look under their cars again. When I go into their houses the automatic pistol sits nearby; an embarrassed apology muttered when it is seen that I have noticed it. However, they cannot be on their guard constantly; even the attempts to be on guard can highlight their status to the malevolent. There are only so many times you can pretend to drop your keys in Enniskillen’s car parks.

This murder has already stirred up considerable anger: much of that anger is entirely righteous; it will also reawaken anger and even bitterness from those whose loved one’s were murdered by the last generation of sectarian butchers; again that is not a wrong emotion. However, our main reactions need to be careful and considered.

Firstly all those of us with a religious faith must remember the deceased’s relatives in our prayers: on this Mother’s Day Mrs. Kerr has been given the most bitter of blows. For those who feel prayers for the dead are appropriate I have absolutely no criticism and indeed ask that they do that. Those without religious faith will also stand in moral, emotional and intellectual empathy with the family of Con. Kerr. All that seems so little, so pathetic and indeed inadequate to assuage our anger at this murder and most importantly the heart rending grief of Con. Kerr’s mother, family and friends. However, we must not allow anger to cloud our thinking: this is a time for a decisive yet considered response.

There must be political and policing repercussions from this event.

Last week the last of the police reserve were taken off active duties: that decision needs to be reversed. The simple fact is that the PSNI is below the recommended numbers of officers yet Matt Baggott is proposing to remove several hundred experienced officers from front line duties. Baggott has always been a most political of police chief constables and has stuck doggedly to the idea of “normalisation” of policing. Having armed gangs trying to murder police officers whilst off duty is not normal and it is high time that Baggott got of his intellectual high horse and announced that the PSNI reserve are going back onto the streets. This is no panacea, it is not a dramatic change but it is one which would have practical consequences – a significant number of experienced officers back on the streets. It would also send a political message: the PSNI and society are determined to stop these terrorists. This is also a decision which should be welcomed by all political parties: Sinn Fein and even the SDLP may find some difficulties in the redeployment of the reserve but they have repeatedly proclaimed a new era in policing and Sinn Fein have signed up to support the police. They now need to support all the police including the experienced men and women of the PSNI reserve in their attempts to protect all of us.

It would also be most helpful if senior members of Sinn Fein used this as an opportunity to send a message that they have absolutely no time for anything the dissidents stand for. Adams and McGuinness have condemned this attack and whatever some of us may think about their history that is to be welcomed in so far as it goes. However, a rapid response from local leading Sinn Fein members would be useful: Pat Doherty is the local MP and a response from him would be of benefit.
The neighbouring MP Michelle Gildernew appears to have been giving character references for convicted IRA members wh,o whilst they appear uninvolved in terrorism now, are opposed to the current political dispensation. Gildernew may deny (and may do so honestly) that there is a link between supporting Gerry McGeough and having any time at all for the violent dissidents. Some of the dissidents, may, however, not see it exactly that way. As such now would be a good time for her to come out and publicly, not only condemn this murder, but state that she personally has revised her position of four years ago, and that she would now go to the police about dissidents and their weapons and would encourage everyone else to do likewise. This cancer of terrorism has claimed another innocent life in our community: now is not the time for half measures.

In spite of all the anger and calls for something to be done, it is necessary to deal with this threat severely but also it is important not to overreact. This is a democracy and the rule of law must be upheld by all. As such all must support the arrest of the perpetrators of this crime: arresting them would be infinitely preferable to the production of further “martyrs” for the cause of violent murder.

It is also important to demand very clearly that no so called loyalist terrorists commit any form of retaliation whatsoever. The only people in this society as loathsome as those who committed this act of murder are the loyalist terrorists who have also committed so many murders: they must be pursued with the same alacrity as the perpetrators of this latest crime.

This latest murder does not represent a new threat to security in Northern Ireland: it simply highlights in stark and ghastly relief the reality of the threat the dissidents have been posing for years. It also highlights the dissident terrorists’ supposed dream of a united 32 county Ireland: in reality that dream is one of squalid sectarian murder. We will not stop these people by persuasion: that much seems clear. We also will not stop these people by hysterical reactions nor by stepping outside the rule of law. It is vital for all of us of whatever persuasion to support unequivocally that rule of law and support and actively encourage the whole community to go to the police in order that these murderers are arrested and imprisoned, quickly but in accordance with proper judicial process.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.