|Judge Tom Travers and his daughter Mary|
Consider three situations. In the first, I take my recently-serviced car out, the brakes inexplicably fail, I hit your teenage daughter and kill her. In the second, I take my car out and, while busy changing radio stations, I hit your teenage daughter and kill her. In the third, I take my car out, search for your daughter, deliberately hit her with my car and kill her.
You don’t have to be Thomas Aquinas to see that while the grief of family will be terrible in all three cases, the morality in each case differs. In the first, there is no guilt involved, since I didn’t intend to kill your daughter. In the second there’s some guilt, since I drove carelessly and that resulted in your daughter’s death. In the third case, I am totally guilty – I set out with the intention of killing your daughter and that’s what I did.
Which of these categories does the killing of Mary Travers fit into? She died from a single shot during an IRA attack on her father in 1984. Tom Travers, a judge at the time, was shot six times but survived.
It’s clear that the IRA attack was aimed at Judge Travers, not his daughter. In other words, the IRA was guilty of deliberately trying to kill Judge Travers but not guilty of trying to kill his daughter. A reasonable case could be made, then, for placing the paramilitaries in the second category, guilt through carelessness , in terms of Mary Travers’s death. But since the intention was to kill the judge and not his daughter, IRA guilt in terms of her death is at worst that of the reckless driver.
None of these distinctions was evident either on the front page of the Venerable Organ or on RTÉ’s ‘Liveline’ programme with Joe Duffy yesterday. The grief and anger of Mary Travers’s sister Ann were palpable and understandable, but no effort was made to examine whether Mary’s death was intentional or not. Why not? Well, we’re immediately in the twilight world of conjecture. Certainly neither the VO nor Joe Duffy could be described as champions of republicanism; equally certainly the references to Sinn Féin having a ‘murderer’ working for them - one of the people involved in the attack on Judge Travers 25 years ago - were calculated to damage that party.
I could go on and consider whether ex-paramilitary prisoners should be employed at Stormont, or at what level, or whether they should be given a job at all, anywhere; but that’s work for another day. For now my point is a simple one. The event on which the controversy rests – Mary Travers’s killing – has been presented in a way that takes for granted the maximum guilt of those involved in her death. That has skewed any rational discussion of who Sinn Féin or any other political party may employ. That’s shameful and dangerous.