“We have lost one of our brave and courageous police recruits, someone who joined this fine service simply to do good, joined to serve the community impartially and to be someone I describe as a modern-day hero.” - Chief Constable Matt Baggott, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland
A car bomb planted by the Continuity I.R.A. has claimed the life of a 25 year-old police constable in the town of Omagh, in western Northern Ireland. Constable Ronan Kerr was on his way to work on Saturday morning when a bomb planted beneath his car detonated, taking away a young life of a man devoted to serving his community and wakening the town of Omagh to sounds they are all too familiar with. It was by car bombs, the I.R.A's most deadly, feared and frequent style of attack, that the town had become the victim of the last major atrocity of the Northern Irish Troubles, in which the I.R.A. had murdered twenty-nine people by detonating it at three o'clock on the afternoon in a busy shopping area on a weekend. For those not killed, as the bomb tore through the streets, limbs were taken off, windows and doors hurled out into the street and a woman pregnant with twins, two Spanish tourists, visitors from the Irish Republic, Protestants, Catholics, a Morman and five teenagers lay dead on the ground. In the name of Irish freedom. I wonder if any of the Catholics and nationalists lying dead on the ground or screaming with their Protestant neighbours amidst broken shards of glass and blood seeping across the streets of Omagh had been asked if they wanted this "sacrifice" inflicted upon them? Probably not. They had never been asked by the I.R.A. before. Just as Protestants had never asked if they were prepared to endure the treatment of the L.V.F. or U..F.F.
Then, yesterday, Omagh was hit again and this morning at Christ the King Church where Constable Kerr, a practising Catholic had been a practitioner, the parish priest, Father Kevin McElhennon spoke to a stunned congregation. He spoke of the Church's "absolute and clear condemnation of yesterday's murder" and of "the misguided, blind, morally wrong and sinful ideology of those who planned, executed and supported the brutal murder of young Ronan."
Father McElhennon is right; this is not the 1970s anymore. The world has changed; the country certainly has. For many, if not most, in Northern Ireland, stories like this belong to another world. A world they thought had vanished and belonged to their parents' generation or even their grandparents'. I hope, in the most part, we are right. I think we are. The condemnation from everyone, even from the republican Left, Sinn Fein, has been encouraging. The failure of this policy, historically, is also evident to anyone with a knowledge of Ireland's past. Thirty years of bombs and violence did not bring about a united Ireland. Indeed, if anything, they seemed only to galvanise both moderate and extreme Unionist sentiment against any form of compromise. Now, today, mercifully, we do have a compromise of sorts. There is a full and equal electorate and an impartial police system, which Constable Kerr had become a member of, only a few months ago. There has not been one bit of support for what the Real or Continuity I.R.A did yesterday. Indeed, it has been the Catholic community in this country which has spoken out most vocally against the killing. For the killers, Constable Kerr was not a human being; he was a target who had "collaborated" with the occupying British imperialist forces. Few think that way anymore. Many would still like to see Ireland be unified under one republican government in Dublin. They are more than entitled to do so. But the way to convince people of the benefits of remaining in the Union with Britain or of going into a union with Ireland is not this way. It is not through bombs, or fear, or violence. If you have to resort to that in 2011, there is something very wrong with the message. If people cannot be persuaded of the justice and truth of your cause without being frightened by car bombs and stealthily murders, then it is the cause which is defective, not the people. The Chief Constable was right; the man who died was a hero serving his community. And the people of Northern Ireland are a lot stronger than the car bombers give them credit for.
The Belfast Telegraph's article on the killing can be read here.
The Facebook group honouring Constable Kerr can be viewed or joined here.