Our levels of shock are inversely proportionate to number of murders

Trevor O’Neill was murdered, shot when he was doing something that an ordinary father would do, writes Alison O’Connor

Our levels of shock are inversely proportionate to number of murders

WE GOT chatting in a Dublin city centre café. After exchanging a few pleasantries the man began to tell a story of how he had been driving just off the South Circular Rd in Dublin this day last week.

As he drove he heard a succession of loud noises. It was, as they say in all the best crime stories, broad daylight, and traffic was quite heavy. It was also very near a part of Dublin in which I used to live. A passenger apparently asked: “What was that?” to which the he replied: “Gunshots.” Just then they saw a man run out of the back of a house into a waiting car, a small one, most likely he thinks a Micra or a Fiesta. The car drove towards them on the opposite side of the road. As it passed them they got a clear view of the driver and the guy they assumed to be the shooter who was wearing sunglasses and a hat, so not identifiable. “Let’s see how long it takes for us to hear the sirens,” he said to his passenger. That took, if I remember correctly from what he said, eight minutes. By that time they were out on to the city quays.

What he realised subsequently was that a man had been shot at up to six times in a house as he attempted to flee a male attacker. Quite unbelievably he escaped uninjured. The gunman fled the scene in a red car, and a car was later found burned out nearby. At the time of writing the shooting was the latest instalment in the Hutch/Kinahan fued. It’s worth remembering that so far, 10 men have been shot dead in what we are told is a feud between the international Kinahan gang and Dublin-based Hutch family.

After the shooting a local Sinn Féin councillor Janice Boylan spoke of how parents in that area had been so scared for their children who were out playing at the time. As they heard the shots and recognised what they were they ran out of their houses to gather up young children.

Back in the cafe I sort of knew the answer but still asked what seemed like the obvious question, and that was whether the man had reported what he had seen to the gardaí. He had not, he said, adding, with a laugh, he didn’t think his wife would have allowed him. But he had kept an ear out on the news and knew the gardaí had made an arrest and were questioning a man.

Later that same day I was at home with Radio One on in the background. The next thing I knew the 7pm headlines were on. The newsreader was telling of how the body of a man was found in a shallow grave in Rahin Wood in Co Kildare. “Uh oh” I thought as I ran to hit the off button before the children heard any more detail. But I got there too late. The detail of how an attempt had been made to set the remains on fire rang out around the kitchen. I did not want my children hearing that level of awful detail, but I didn’t even wish to hear it myself. For most of the previous week I had kept the radio off and ensured they did not see the TV news because of the death of the Hawe family in Cavan, and the level of detail which had been broadcast on those awful events.

As my discussion with the man in the café showed, coupled with the level of lurid detail we are being subjected to on an almost daily basis, events such as shootings and killings are becoming almost run of the mill. I realise that if I don’t get to the radio off button fast enough and often enough, my children may well grow up virtually inured to such horror. I can quite understand why the man in the car decided not to go to the gardaí, but I was also struck as he told his story by how commonplace it seemed that he almost drove upon an attempted murder on a regular Friday evening in the city in which we both live.

I think of Trevor O’Neill. Remember Trevor? On holidays last month with his family in the resort of Santa Ponsa in Spain, so beloved of Irish people. He was gunned down in front of his partner and three children in a case of mistaken identity. They had gone on holidays to celebrate Trevor’s 42nd birthday. They had been on their way to a restaurant. His youngest child was in a buggy being pushed by his partner Susanne.

Subsequently police said Trevor was not the intended target but a man he had been talking to, a member of the Hutch family. After the shooting the O’Neill family was immediately taken to a safe house by police. So much of the horror of what occurred to this family is just heartbreaking, but the fact they did not know Trevor was dead until Susanne spoke to family members in Dublin the next morning remains quite unbelievable.

At Trevor’s funeral parish priest Fr Melvyn Mullins said that while accidents can happen, what happened to Trevor on August 17 was no accident. It’s so understandable to hear the priest saying he was appalled at expressions like “mistaken identity” or “the wrong person in the /wrong place at the wrong time”. “They are empty expressions because they do not mark what is the true story,” he said.

That true story, said the priest, was: “Trevor O’Neill was murdered, shot when he was doing something that an ordinary father would do: Enjoying a holiday in Spain with his partner and their children.

“And Trevor, being the social guy that he was, did nothing but talk to everyone, no matter where he was, and he talked to people around the pool, he talked to people who were there at the hotel, and as he walked out into the evening, we find ourselves here.”

How right Fr Mullins is. By using such phrases we almost excuse what has happened, or at the least lessen its impact. The converse logic here is that if the assassin had hit the “right” target it would almost be grand, a successful hit, as it were. That’s where we are at with crime at the moment — virtually unshocked by murder and attempted murders taking place on the streets of our capital, and sad about Irish citizens being gunned down mistakenly abroad, but not as truly shocked as we should be. Hearing about partially burnt bodies has become virtually ho hum in our daily lives.

Maybe it’s just me. I didn’t even watch Love/Hate. I found it far too gruesome and awful and rather than enjoyable viewing on a Sunday night I found it stressful because I would wonder how close to real life it really was. The way things are going that programme is looking increasingly like Irish gangland crime lite.

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