Like the great majority of this country, I was sickened to the pit of my stomach by the murder of Shane Geoghegan in Limerick.
The slaying of an innocent 28-year-old man cannot, as has been commented upon elsewhere in recent days, be described as a ‘watershed’ moment in modern Irish history.
Sadly, others including Anthony Campbell and Baiba Saulite have had their lives inexplicably cut short at the hands of those who see themselves above the law.
Veronica Guerin’s name has again resurfaced in the light of the Garryowen clubman’s murder. Until that fateful moment at Newland’s Cross in the summer of 1996, most of us south of the border associated wanton barbarism with Northern Ireland’s paramilitaries.
And while the ongoing intransigence within the Stormont Executive is a source of deep frustration, it’s a darn sight more palatable than the atrocities which the innocents on both sides of the divide endured for over 30 years.
But Guerin’s brutal death was a genuine watershed, catalysing as it did the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), which enjoyed considerable early success in nullifying the threat of many of Ireland’s most notorious criminals.
In the 12 years since the Sunday Independent reporter’s killing, there have been several atrocities which have shocked the public and column writers for a few weeks before moving onto something else to decry.
Were she alive today to report on a fight which, whether we like it or not, the Gardaí appear to be losing (look at the small number of prosecutions for murder), Guerin’s outrage would run deeper than most.
But I genuinely believe that Geoghegan’s death has struck a deeper chord with ordinary people, who have long since dismissed the noises of anyone who claims to be an ‘ordinary decent criminal’.
Standing in Croke Park last Saturday during an immaculately observed minute’s silence, it was impossible to
ignore the sky blue shirts worn by Geoghegan’s clubmates in his honour.
The level at which he played the game is familiar to me through my association with Carrick-on-Suir RFC. The bond between team mates, especially among those who play for the love of the game without possessing God-given talent, runs particularly deep.
Being dragged from the mud by a team mate’s arm and given an encouraging word, especially during a match when things aren’t going so well, is when lifelong bonds are formed.
The nights out that follow a win are among the best social occasions a player will enjoy with his fellow clubman, and I’ve little doubt that Shane Geoghegan led many a victory song in the post-match huddle.
The number three jersey Geoghegan proudly wore has been retired from all Garryowen teams for the rest of the season.
There’s little doubt that his name will one day be inscribed upon a trophy for a tournament named in his honour. In a sport which salutes all levels of the game, Shane Geoghegan will never be forgotten.
But what would best honour his memory, and the memories of all those whose lives have been cut short by scum who threaten the security of our State?
For one thing, life imprisonment ought to mean just that. I don’t care what it costs to keep scum in prison; I’ll gladly pay my taxes to keep murderers behind bars.
As things stand statistically in Ireland, if you’re up on a murder charge, you stand a better chance of avoiding jail than you do of being found guilty. Why mandatory sentencing remains such a contentious issue is beyond my comprehension.
As long as our methods of evidence gathering, questioning of suspects and the legal system itself remain, at least from this layman’s perspective, hamstrung, the killings will continue.
How many more will die in vain? I shudder to think.