Constable Ronan Kerr, the young Catholic policeman who died so horribly in Omagh the weekend, was a symbol of a new Northern Ireland which is gradually coming into being. Policing, once a largely Protestant preserve, is now far more representative thanks to recruits such as Constable Kerr. He had just joined the Police Service of Northern Ireland which, thanks to a decade of official effort, is today 30 per cent Catholic.
Condemnation of his murder included strong statements from all quarters, including both unionist and republican government ministers. The fact that both the administration and the police force are representative of the two parts of the community is a minor miracle, given the decades of conflict. Yet to the dissident bombers who carried out the murder this is not progress but an affront: to their blinkered eyes those involved in it are traitors.
Mainstream Irish republicans long ago came to accept that victory was not in sight and that negotiation was necessary. To begin with, compromise was almost a foreign concept, but today the idea of shared responsibility has become the norm. The idea has however yet to impact on the violent dissidents who persist in their grubby little war in which they occasionally manage to murder people like Ronan Kerr. Their members, a combination of twisted veterans and alienated youth, will take grim satisfaction in his death.
In their blinkered mind-set there will be violence until Britain leaves and Ireland is "free". They cannot grasp that more advances have been made in two decades of peace process than in two centuries of sporadic insurrection. Their fixation with territory, at the expense of humanity, makes them think that war is preferable to peace. Their political analysis has not advanced beyond the primordial.
The death of the constable is a tragedy for his family and a setback for policing and the peace proces. And people throughout Northern Ireland were clearly deeply shocked by its callousness and above all its futility. A deeper feeling is already strongly evident: an absolute determination that there will be no return to the bad old days, and that the hard-won progress will not be reversed by murder.Reuse content