Written on: 4. 7. 2021 in the category: Uncategorized

Sophie’s Untouched Corpse Should Shame Us All

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There’s hardly been a more searing indictment of the priorities of the Irish state – and thereby, overall, of Irish society – than the “investigation” into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier twenty-five years ago. It’s no wonder that the failure to try anyone for this atrocious deed shocked France; what is even more shocking is our own failure to examine and learn from this state’s abysmal failings.

Sophie’s murder came at a deeply symbolic time in Irish history, seven months before the Provisional IRA’s final ceasefire, which (as we now know) was the prelude to a long process of political capitulation and cultural abjection to the Sfira project. Just before that ceasefire, in June 1997, Garda headquarters flew the Tricolour at half-mast for the first time to honour the sacrifice of yet two more RUC officers, murdered by the IRA: Constable Roland Graham and Reserve Constable David Johnston. This was nearly twenty-seven years after the IRA’s first murder of policemen in this campaign, in August 1970, namely Constables Samuel Donaldson and Robert Millar in South Armagh. Throughout that period, Garda headquarters had never lowered the national flag to honour the memory of over three hundred Northern Irish police officers – their fellow Irishmen and women – murdered for merely doing their duty.

If that does not fill you with a sense of shame, then there’s something wrong with you.

In 1994, the IRA had announced its much-heralded IRA ceasefire – unconditional and final, we were told at the time, though of course unconditional in Sfira-speak always comes with conditions and final only means final when the IRA finally means it to be final, all earlier finals being temporarily final, not finally final. This phoney ceasefire was ended in February 1996 with the Canary Wharf bomb that had the explosive power of a small nuclear device, which could have murdered hundreds of people instead of the unfortunate two who were killed, Inan Bashir and John Jeffries. What links their killings with those of Constables Donaldson and Millar is South Armagh: the bombs that ended the lives of all four men over a quarter of a century apart were made in that IRA heartland.

Closing down this heartland, with its myriad of tiny cross-border roads, was the obligation of the Irish state, which it refused to accept. Indeed, it was part of an entire range of responsibilities that the Irish state steadfastly failed to undertake. This included the non-purchase of troop-carrying helicopters to ferry soldiers to deal with terrorist emergencies faster than the IRA could respond, and the non-acquisition of long-range maritime aircraft to provide top cover during air-sea rescues, meaning we had to call in the RAF for such emergencies. Following the Air India terrorist attack in June 1985, we thus had the utter humiliation of being dependent on the RAF to assist in the retrieval and transport to Irish airports of hundreds of bodies while the Army of this Republic was deployed to protect the RAF crews about their missions of mercy from attack by the IRA.

If there is a more degrading sentence that sums up affairs in Ireland, I have neither read nor written it.

Still, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that the men of the Naval Service displayed astonishing bravery while about this foul duty of collecting the dead bodies, many of the sailors actually swimming through shark-filled waters while their colleagues kept the sharks at bay with oars. The Defence Forces historically have never shirked their duty: their problem has always lain with their (and our) political leaders.

From being proportionately amongst the two most peaceable states in western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, during the 1970s and 1980s the two Irelands became the most violent. Within the Northern state, the British created a vast infrastructure to cope with the violence, much of it, admittedly, counterproductive. Within the southern state, the response was largely limited to the creation of the no-jury Special Criminal Court and the arming of a few Special Branch gardai. The Supreme Court even ruled that murdering someone with a revolver or pistol in the pursuit of the Constitutional objective of a united Ireland was not an extraditable offence, because the use of a handgun meant that it was not implicitly terrorist. In other words, Irish law would not have regarded the assassination of the Archduke and of his wife Sophie in 1914 as a terrorist attack.

But to return to the murder of that later Sophie with which this article began. Her battered body was found at the gateway to her home at 10am December 23, 1996. We need not rehearse here the dreadful details of her death: any internet search will give you these. But what was – and remains – profoundly scandalous was that her remains were then left in situ for twenty-eight hours before they were retrieved by the state pathologist John Harbinson. For in addition to December 23 being (probably) the day of her death, it was also his birthday; so while he spent the day celebrating the onset of his 63rd year, Sophie’s corpse lay outside her home, mouldering, unexamined and open to the elements and insect-depredation. By the time he arrived at the scene at 2 pm the next day, it had reached ambient temperature, making it impossible to ascertain when she was actually murdered.

And so that was that.

Which was of course quite scandalous: but then almost no-one seemed to think it scandalous, even though it is common knowledge that the first twenty-four hours after such a killing are the most vital in its investigation. For that very period, the now much-abused gardai were helpless, having neither the body nor the vital information it could have yielded, while John Harbison was having his birthday party.

And so, that was that.

Some two months after Sophie’s murder, the IRA sniper team in South Armagh killed their final British soldier, Stephen Restorick, nearly twenty-seven years after the murders of Constables Donaldson and Millar. But surely,  goes the usual justification for the Republic’s failure to close the Border with South Armagh, it had so many crossing points that it simply could not be sealed.

And so, that was that.

Indeed, this might have been a compelling argument had not the Irish Republic successfully closed all Border crossings in 2001 into South Armagh after the IRA had (inadvertently) introduced some diseased sheep into Meigh in South Armagh as part of its cross-Border headage-payments racket. I say this with some certainty because that March, I spent an entire day checking the roads into South Armagh. There were Garda/Army checkpoints on them all. The protection of the national herd from foot-and-mouth had achieved a priority that the safety of (the mostly Protestant) human beings in Northern Ireland had never managed from 1970-1997.

And so, that was that.

Is it surprising that a state with such an undeveloped moral awareness similarly lacked either the ability or the willingness to mount a 24/365 roster for state-pathologists, even after a twenty-seven-year war in which scores of the victims had been killed in the Republic? Yes, you can level appalling indictments of all countries everywhere, but ask yourself this. Is there any other society in Europe that could have put the like of Beverley Cooper-Flynn, Michael Lowry, Gerry Adams, Arthur Morgan, Martin Ferris, Dessie Ellis and the Hely-Raes (and many others) into its national parliament and meanwhile have elected Mary Lou McDonald, who in 2003 had publicly praised an infamous Nazi collaborator, to the European Parliament in Brussels?

This is how, just the other day, Kathy Sheridan of ­The Irish Times described her speech. “Five years later McDonald was the main speaker at a ceremony in Fairview Park in Dublin, around the statue of Seán Russell, a highly controversial Irish republican figure who fought in the War of Independence.”

But virtually the entire cabinet and opposition had fought in the War of Independence, so that wasn’t what made Russell “controversial”. What actually did was what Sherdian didn’t mention; the FACT that he was an agent of the Third Reich, the FACT that he died in a German U-boat on a Nazi-sponsored mission to Ireland and the FACT that he was, therefore, a collaborator in the Final Solution. And though it’s true that Sheridan is a more deeply stupid person than I could possibly convey here, this alone would not account for such a grotesque feat of censorship. She has editors, who must have concurred with her act of politically convenient airbrushing. In other words, this concealment of a reiteration of the IRA-Nazi alliance by Sinn Fein’s current leader was not an accident or oversight; this clearly is now Irish Times policy as McDonald’s accession to power draws near.

Thus the state of Ireland in 2021, a society that probably deserves the fate which now awaits it, as the unrepentant authors of a perfectly needless 27-year war now stand at the gates of government in Dublin and Belfast.

And then that really will be that…..

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