I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion on the callous and shocking murder of Police Constable Ronan Kerr.
At the outset, I want to extend my deepest sympathies and those of my party to the family, friends and neighbours of Ronan Kerr.
His murder is a heinous crime and those responsible for it are beneath contempt. They are psychopaths not patriots and I hope that they will soon face the full rigors of the law.
Ronan Kerr was a brave and civic minded Irishman. He was shamefully murdered by faceless and twisted assassins who are intent on defying the will of the Irish people.
Ronan died in the service of his community as he left his home to go to work in Enniskillen on Saturday evening so others could live in peace and security.
Leaders’ Questions 4th April 2011. Micheál Martin condemns the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr and calls for a joint party motion condemning the killing.
His death is a human tragedy for his family and for the people of Omagh. His murder has achieved nothing but suffering, pain and terrible grief among an ordinary hard working family. And there is no escaping the sadness, the sense of waste and lost potential with a young man in his prime – only 25 years of age – being senselessly and brutally assassinated by people who have no respect for human life and no respect for democracy.
The perpetrators of such evil actions have no place in civilised society and they must be challenged and confronted at every opportunity.
In the aftermath of a horrific murder such as this, it is important that a clear, united and unequivocal message be sent from the democratic parliament of the Irish Republic that those responsible for this cowardly atrocity have no mandate and do not act in the name of the Irish people.
The terrorists who carried out this brutal killing have no democratic legitimacy.
They went about their vile business because they have no respect for the sovereign wishes of the Irish people.
They may claim to be a republican organisation but they are most definitely not.
Their actions and their contempt for the will the Irish people, North and South, to live together in peace and harmony, defiles that honourable tradition.
Real republicans understand and respect the fact that the Irish people are sovereign.
Real republicans recognise and they accept that the Irish people have democratically expressed their support for peace on this island and they stand firmly behind that inspired decision.
The murder of Ronan Kerr is a direct assault on the peace process.
It is a violent attempt to undermine peace.
It is a brutal effort to subvert the collective will of the Irish people as expressed in the Good Friday Agreement.
And it is part of a sinister plot to destabilise the legitimately established institutions in Northern Ireland.
As democratically elected representatives of the Irish people, it is important that we here today, with one voice, express our clear revulsion and our steadfast opposition to those who want to return this island to the bad days of murder and mayhem.
A lunatic minority who glory in a return to so-called armed struggle clearly wish to do undo all the progress of a generation in building peace and trust, but they will not succeed.
The peace process belongs to all the people of this island and no terrorist gang will deflect us from it.
No terrorist gang can be allowed to dictate to the Irish people or undermine our desire to live and share this island in harmony and friendship.
The will of the Irish people is stronger than those who threaten or use violence while claiming a political agenda.
And let’s be clear, there is no politics in the murder of Ronan Kerr, it is murder, plain and simple. It was carried out by people with no agenda other than to inflict pain, to cause sorrow.
I want to make clear to the Taoiseach and the Government that they have this party’s full support and our enduring co-operation in ensuring that these terrorist gangs are not allowed to jeopardise the peace process. A convention has developed where they are referred to as ‘dissidents’. I have always rejected this label. To my mind ‘dissident’ suggests a coherent opinion. It suggests a principled stand against another’s position. It has no place in the description of the bloodthirsty nihilists who took the life of this fine young Gael.
They are straightforward gangs, but we are acutely conscious of the threat they pose and this week has unfortunately shown us once again their aptitude for evil.
Irish and British security and intelligence sources believe that they are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their bomb-making capability.
Fianna Fáil will support the Government in any efforts it takes to place further extensive resources at the disposal of the Gardaí to target the activities of these gangs.
We will also support the Government in any practical legislative measures it may bring forward to crush those who engage in or give succour to terrorist gangs.
I know that the Garda Siochana will be giving every assistance to the PSNI to counter the subversive threat to democracy on this island.
I am heartened by the excellent co-operation between the police services on this island. That is the way it should be and it is a reality which many of us in this House have worked very hard to help achieve.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott are liaising closely while anti-terrorist officers from both police services are also working together in an effort to identify the murderers.
It is the patriotic duty of everyone on this island to give full support to police investigations so the evil people responsible for this crime can be brought to justice.
This weekend the name of Ireland has been sullied again by those who trade in old hatreds and glory in weapons of terror. At a time when we crucially need to bring jobs and investment to our country, the international reputation of Ireland has taken another blow from murderers who care more about sowing the seeds of conflict than the need to restore prosperity for the people of Ireland.
It is important that our national parliament is seen to stand firmly and absolutely behind the peace process.
It is for this reason that I suggested that it would be an apt response from this House that we pass an all-party agreed motion to make clear our abhorrence of the murder in Omagh.
I also want to commend the response of the First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who joined Chief Constable Baggott at Stormont Castle yesterday to condemn the attack on Constable Kerr. Indeed, the shared revulsion and outrage right across the political spectrum caused by the murder of the young police officer shows clearly how isolated and out of touch the murderers are with mainstream opinion. In every community in Northern Ireland and, indeed, across the island, the strong sense of solidarity with the Kerr family and the public anger at the wrong that has been done to them shows how far we have travelled and how deep the roots of reconciliation have stretched.
In many ways, this united approach and clear sense that the overwhelming majority of people want to leave violence behind offers us hope for the future.
Trust and better relations take time to grow and develop but over the past decade they have begun to blossom. There are still those who want to cling to ancient hatreds and to engage in violence but they are few, they are isolated, their support is negligible and they will be defeated.
The fact that violence has reared its ugly head once again in Northern Ireland should make us all the more resolved to stick with our framework for peace which is centred on key democratic values such as respect for human rights, equality and tolerance and on the principle of consent.
As a democrat who accepts the principle of consent, I endorse the right of a majority of the population of Northern Ireland to maintain the Union with Britain if that is their democratic wish.
But equally, as a proud Irish republican, I aspire to seeing and will continue to work towards the day when a majority of the people of Northern Ireland freely choose the option of an Ireland united in peace.
The great genius of the Good Friday Agreement is that it validates both of these options.
But one thing is clear and beyond doubt – violence or the threat of violence can never be used to change the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.
I completely fail to understand how any sane individual could ever believe, even for a moment, that murdering a community policeman advances the cause of a united Ireland one iota. In fact, it completely undermines that goal and demeans the shared humanity of everyone.
The murder on Saturday of Ronan Kerr and other more recent attacks against PSNI officers and their families have shown, a small criminal minority continue to dispute this view.
They do not enjoy any significant level of support in the community and are without any political agenda or mandate. But we must remain vigilant.
As a constitutional republican, I was proud to play a part in the negotiation of the Hillsborough Agreement which saw the transfer of justice and policing powers from London to Belfast.
This helped further consolidate the devolved institutions in Stormont and completed the transformation of policing in Northern Ireland. This also secured further cross-community support for Northern Ireland’s new policing arrangements and removed any last vestige of legitimacy from those who sought to undermine the peace.
I sincerely believe that the PSNI, like the Gardai, is essentially a force for good on this island. The targeting of Catholic members of the PSNI by dissident groups is not just misguided, it is disgusting and it is morally wrong.
On behalf of Fianna Fáil I want to be crystal clear: there be can no justification whatsoever for threats of any description against any PSNI officer. The targeting of any officer on grounds of their religion is an evil and sectarian attack against them and against genuine republican values.
We have persevered long and hard and successfully to transform policing through the implementation of the Patten Report. The large increase in the number of Catholic police officers has been one of the key achievements of this transformation and this has helped to build mutual respect across Northern Ireland.
In this regard, Ceann Comhaire, I want to conclude by quoting the wise words of a very courageous woman, Mrs Nuala Kerr, the mother of police officer Ronan Kerr, who has urged others from her community not to be deterred from joining the PSNI because of his murder. She said and I quote:
“This is at a time when we are striving for a neutral police force for the good of our country and I urge all Catholic members not to be deterred by this. We all need to stand up and be counted and to strive for equality. We do not want to go back into the dark days again of fear and terror. We were so proud of Ronan and all that he stood for. Do not let his death be in vain.”