Statement of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence on the killing of Constable Ronan Kerr.

5 April 2011

 

I want to begin my remarks by echoing the words of sympathy that the Taoiseach and others have expressed to the family of Constable Ronan Kerr. This is a terrible tragedy. Terrible for his mother, Nuala and for his brothers, Cathair and Aaron and sister, Dairine, terrible for his community and for his colleagues North and South, and terrible for all of us on this island.

We have been here before in this House, [Cheann Comhairle,] many times, but the contemplation of criminal terrorism never gets any easier. Two years ago we mourned the deaths of Constable Stephen Carroll and of the two young soldiers, Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar.

Ronan Kerr was a young Catholic man whose only wish was to serve his community – that he chose to do so by joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland is a sign of how far the people of Northern Ireland have embraced hope. That he now lies dead is a sign of the despair into which these criminal terrorists wish to drag us.

As of yet there has been no claim of responsibility for this attack. So-called 'dissident republicans' have been blamed.

I say 'so-called' because these groups debase both words. Historically, the term 'dissident' was a badge of honour for those who opposed tyranny. But what these people are dissenting from is democracy itself. Their campaign of violence is designed to set at nothing the will of the Irish people.

Respect for democracy is fundamental to true republicanism. The perpetrators of this attack need to ask themselves who exactly do they represent? At what point did their confused, totalitarian form of supposed republicanism become so perverted, so dogmatic, that its total rejection by their fellow countrymen and women became irrelevant?

In reality, the people who make up these groups are no more than criminal terrorists, whose activities are often inextricably linked with organised crime.

And while it is right that we in this House, on behalf of the people we represent, express our condemnation as strongly as we can, the unpalatable fact is that the people involved in these acts have so far proved impervious to the appeals of people from all backgrounds to stop the violence.

It is important, therefore, that we offer reassurance that the forces of law and order are doing everything possible, within the rule of law, to take this threat on. The Garda Commissioner yesterday briefed us fully on the security situation and on the steps being taken, in concert with the PSNI, to counteract terrorist activities and to assist in the investigation of this crime.

The Garda Síochána are constantly engaged in an intensive anti- and counter-terrorist effort against these organisations. And it is of course the case that the range of measures made available to the Gardaí to counter terrorist activity, including for example the powers available under the original Offences Against the State legislation, including the use of the Special Criminal Court, have been retained. I will be asking the House soon to renew the provisions of the legislation enacted after the earlier atrocity in Omagh in 1998.

The Gardaí are using these measures wherever appropriate to do so. Over the last eighteen months around 100 people have been arrested in connection with such activities. Forty-three people are currently charged before the Special Criminal Court. And fifty-four people are currently imprisoned having been convicted of offences relating to terrorist activity.

Let me put it as plainly as I can: we will stop at nothing, within the rule of law, to defeat these groups.

I can also tell the House that I spoke with Northern Ireland Minister of Justice David Ford last Saturday very shortly after the dreadful incident took place, and later that night with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I expressed my sympathy to them for the loss of this young officer. I also reiterated the Government’s commitment to supporting the Chief Constable and his officers, not just in the investigation into this tragedy, but in general. I know that I speak for the Garda Commissioner in saying that we stand foursquare behind the PSNI. In this regard I can do no better than to quote the Commissioner himself, who, after speaking to Chief Constable Baggott on Saturday, stated that the two police forces on this island are bound together by a shared resolve and determination to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.

As the House knows, the honour of being Minister with responsibility for the Garda Síochána, and for the security of the State, has only been mine for a short time. One of my first actions was to travel to Belfast to meet with Minister Ford. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI accompanied us to that meeting and shared a frank assessment of the threat posed by the small number of criminal terrorists who continue to operate in both jurisdictions.

I can say that I was struck at that meeting by the obvious closeness of the relationship between the two police forces on this island, and the obvious commitment of the Commissioner and Chief Constable to working together. And while security cooperation remains and must remain a particular priority – a fact brought into stark focus by the tragic death of Constable Kerr – it is clear to me that this commitment to work together extends to cover the full range of police work.

The excellent relationship which exists between the two police forces has not arisen by accident and no-one should underestimate the efforts that have gone into getting us to where we are. As Minister I am now in a position to see at close quarters, and support, the hard work and dedication that is necessary to make such a relationship work – and the abundance of goodwill between the two police forces which provides the base upon which good cooperation can be built. One embodiment of this is the recent publication of the first formal Cross-border Policing Strategy – this new strategy shows the breadth of cooperation that exists and the determination of both police forces to use all the tools available to them to ensure that those who would seek to exploit the border for criminal and terrorist purposes will not succeed.

And the House should be in no doubt about the extent of the involvement of these groups in a range of criminal activities, including robbery, extortion, smuggling and kidnapping.

To put it simply, on one side of the equation lies democracy, the Good Friday Agreement and the clearly-expressed desire for peace of the vast majority of the people of Ireland and of every political party represented in the Oireachtas and at Stormont; on the other side lies a small number of unreconstructed criminal terrorists who appear to believe that robbery and kidnapping are legitimate steps on the road to Irish unity.

Any fool can see that attacks such as the one that robbed Ronan Kerr an Irish policeman of his life cannot advance the cause of Irish unity. The murder of Constable Kerr was not just abhorrent but senseless. It fulfils no greater purpose, it advances no political aim. Let us be clear about it – this is killing for killing’s sake.

The people who carried out this barbaric attack have no coherent political position, no points of principle that any decent person could recognise. All they seem to believe in is the death of fellow Irishmen and women. That they claim to carry out these attacks in the name of the Irish people, the same people who have roundly and categorically rejected them, is quite frankly sickening.

I say it again, [Cheann Comhairle] – the idea that the so-called dissidents are dissenting from is called democracy.

There could be no greater contrast between the cowardly futility which these groups display and the brave words of Ronan Kerr’s mother when, at a time of unbearable grief, she concentrated on doing good for the community, just as her son tried to do. If anyone who was involved in this killing had any remaining ounce of humanity they would have hung their heads in shame when they heard Nuala Kerr’s words.

She said ‘We were so proud of Ronan and all that he stood for’.

So are we.

She said ‘Don’t let his death be in vain’.

It will not.

It has made us all the stronger in our determination that the evil behind it will not prevail.