It’s not a position I usually find myself in, but I reacted negatively yesterday when I heard someone - almost certainly a politician - talk about the death of David Black as ‘an all-Ireland problem’. I concede that the dissident group which killed him very likely has members north and south of the border, but that wasn’t the point that was being made. “They’ve shown they’re quite prepared to kill people on both sides of the border” was the thrust of the statement.
That’s true. But it seems to me a misleading comment. While not wishing to take from the brutality of David Black’s death, the violent deaths south of the border which are being attributed to dissident republicans involved not prison officers, but drug dealers. How often have you heard the phrase “He was well-known to the gardaí” when one of these fatal shootings happened? Yet despite their frequency, despite promises from the likes of former Justice Minister Michael McDowell that they would clean up the mess, the killings continue with little or no political or public outcry.. Why? Because deep down there is a perverted satisfaction that one more drug-dealer is dead.
The state in the south appears powerless to prevent both dealing in drugs and the deaths that happen in the course of this dealing. Almost certainly that’s a major contributor to the relative political silence when one of these people die violently. Make too much noise and it might draw attention to the state’s impotence or lack of concern that another drug-dealer has been dealt with, not by the state, but some illegal grouping.
Were the deaths of drug-dealers any less horrible than the death of David Black? Not really, except you believe some human lives are more worthy of protection than others. But the chorus of politicians’ voices from the south in recent days over David Black contrasts sharply with their silence and inactivity each time another person “well-known to the gardaí” is gunned down. Maybe they’re afraid that people will start demanding that (i) the drug problem be tackled in a way that works; and (ii) that all lives, including and maybe especially the lives of those we detest, be protected. Wasn’t there a line in the Easter Proclamation about all of the children of the nation being cherished equally?