Dundalk has not forgotten the thousands of uniformed gardai from all over the country who marched through our streets on that damp day at the beginning of this year at the state funeral of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. It is our memory of the force, and of the town, united in tribute to a murdered officer.
The attendance at the funeral Mass at St Joseph’s Redemptorist church included the Chief Constable of the PSNI Matt Baggott and Louth Dail deputy Gerry Adams. They were there to pay their respects to a Garda officer brutally murdered while doing his duty.
We had all come a long way.
Even in a moment of great tragedy, those images brought a fresh hope to the town. The Troubles seemed a long time ago, and the tawdry image the town had been tarnished with, had been replaced by a united expression of grief.
But last week it seemed as if the plague had returned when Judge Peter Smithwick, after eight years of trawling through a tribunal hearing, announced that collusion had taken place between the IRA and a source at Dundalk Garda station. In less than a year, Dundalk and the Garda were part of another tragic focus, only this time there was a stunning twist: the tragedy was tinged with shame.
For many the shame was made worse by the remarks by deputy Adams who in an unforgettable radio interview said the murdered RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan had a “laissez faire” attitude to their own safety.
The tribunal has been a success because it has not been a whitewash, but Mr Adams quickly threw a black veil over it all when he wheeled out the republican defence of the murders. The tormented romance of the Troubles that we thought we had outgrown was quickly resurrected.
Soon obedient party members were rallying to the cause. Sinn Fein justice spokesman Padraig MacLochlainn said the IRA had a duty kill the RUC officers because “it was a legitimate war”.
Mr Adams would go on to say in the Dail that at the time the Troubles broke out the government in this state did not intervene. In other words we didn’t go to war against the British. A war that was delcared by some peole on this island, and not even all the nationalist community in the North.
The grandeur of these statements is demolished by contradiction. On the one hand Sinn Fein and deputy Adams want to forget about the war and move on, and on the other they must keep alive the memory of it all.
To his credit, Mr Adams worked hard to end the war, but last week he seemed as if he was trying, once again, to have it both ways.
He of all people should know how hard progress is earned, and that stepping back into history’s shadow does nothing to create a new life.
An Garda Siochana must also realise, as the Smithwick report states, that it cannot survive if self-preservation is its objective, and that the tide of eulogy that was seen last January will sadly be forgotten if the past should ever return.