Jude Collins

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Death of a prison officer

It’s strange. Just after I heard of the killing of David Black, the prison officer, I heard that someone I admire a great deal was suffering from terminal cancer. So the two deaths came together in my head.  

Condemnations of the David Black killing have come flooding in. Peter Robinson says it’s the work of ‘flat-earth fanatics’. Martin McGuinness has denounced the killing as ‘meaningless and futile’.

I’m not sure I agree. The terminal condition of the cancer sufferer is hard to attach meaning to, but the killing of David Black does have meaning. That is to say, it was done with a purpose in mind - to send a message to the prison authorities in Maghaberry about strip-searching.  It’s an uncomfortable fact full of echoes from the past, but there are a number of dissident republican prisoners in Maghaberry on a dirty protest  - not washing, not shaving, throwing their excrement from their cells.  Apparently there is an alternative scanning process that can be used  instead of strip-searching and it is used elsewhere in the north. But it hasn’t been used in Maghaberry. David Black was probably shot dead by people who believe that this will help galvanize the authorities into ending strip searching. 

So to repeat, it has meaning. But equally it may be futile, or worse than futile. It may harden the resolve of the authorities to prevent any public notion that they are responding to pressure from dissidents. Then again, it may result in the authorities quietly and quickly installing scanning equipment in Maghaberry. 

But whether it has meaning and/or is futile is different from asking ‘Was it morally wrong?’  I think of the cancer sufferer and I think it is surely sacrilegious to deliberately snuff out a life, erasing all the hopes and plans and life that lay ahead for this 52-year-old and those that loved him. Even if it did achieve the dissidents’ end, would it be worth it to come at  such a heavy, terrible price? Doesn’t death come quick enough for us all?

But a proviso, to myself  as much as anyone who may be tempted to share my reaction. There’s a man in the US today, who most of us are hoping will get another four years in the White House. He regularly gives orders that send death, not just to one man on a motorway, but to dozens at a time,  wiping away the innocent with the guilty. He’s the drone-bomb man and he’s called Barack Obama. That’s how political ends are achieved in this world. So as we hold our noses at the cruel death this morning, let’s be equally outraged - maybe more outraged - at the casual slaughter that barely gets a line in print. 


  1. The line you're taking brought something to my mind, from a decade or more a go. I was at a middle class catholic grammar - location irrelevant. It was just around the time of the first couple of beheadings in Iraq (remember how shocked we all were, until it became regular and mundane and ...boring), anyway, it was a British contractor, the news media was in overdrive - our school principle made a special mention at assembly that day, named the guy and all and lead us in a prayer for this highly paid contractor who voluntarily went into a war zone, knowing all the dangers. Poor guy fair enough. The night before, a lesser reported story was that of a young Palestinian girl (maybe 10/11), who was on her way to school, with her school bag on her back (full of pens and pencil etc I imagine), due to Israeli occupation, she had to go through a checkpoint on the way to school - except an Israeli soldier put a bullet through her head without warning as she approached the checkpoint. That girl also died a horrific death that same day, but she wasn't named in our assembly, no-one said a prayer for her...

    Sorry for side tracking, but your article put that into my head, it made me think profoundly about the middle class's and their morals and values at the time...

    1. I don't think this had anything to do with the middle classes.
      A British citizen killed in foreign lands will always be more noteworthy than a foreign person killed in a foreign land.
      In the same way a Palestinian person killed in Ireland would be of more interest to the media and the people of Palestine than, say a prison officer killed in N. Ireland.
      Nothing to do with class.

  2. prison officers in NI have complicit in some of the most degrading and appalling abuse and maltreatment of Irish prisoners incarcerated there. Some of the prisoners have not even committed a crimes but are victims of petty vindictive vengeance of their political enemies. Its no surprise that at long last and after countless protests and warnings about this, that these officers have been targeted.

    Maybe if the Irish media and concerned do-gooders stopped ignoring this abuse and false imprisonment the people who carried out this attack might not be forced to such drastic action.

  3. Presumably the dissidents don't take their killing ways from the grass as the saying goes.They are only doing what the Provos did before.Presumably it was equally sacrilegious when the I R A killed police,prison officers and judges during the Troubles.

  4. It really is bad enough that a man has been cruelly murdered without resorting to the "What about" game. Must we do this every time?

  5. The irony would be ridiculous if the UVF "retaliated" for this murder.