Political point scoring does a disservice to Mairia Cahill

The politicisation of the Máiria Cahill case is doing a disservice to the Irish political process and all victims of the northern conflict, argues Dolan O’Hagan.

Political point scoring does a disservice to Mairia Cahill

"At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst." - Aristotle

The circumstances which lead to the miscarriage of justice experienced by Máiria Cahill cannot be separated from the hugely dysfunctional way the North existed and operated during the troubles.

That is a simple but important fact missed by large swathes of the overly politicised and agenda driven commentary on this issue in recent days.

This writer spent his teenage years and early adulthood in the North during the period 1982 - 2000.

The formative years were spent in a housing estate on the outskirts of Derry City against the backdrop of post hunger strike violence but filled with nothing but good memories of never ending football matches and fishing expeditions on the river Faughan.

The fact that my estate had a number of drug dealers was something that never really bothered me.

The same could not be said for my father.

He had returned to Derry with his family after 14 years as an expatriate worker in places like South Africa, Algeria and Holland.

Adventures that no doubt gave him a good understanding of the inherent dangers of 'hard' drugs and the devastation they wrought on communities.

It was not long, therefore, before he became involved in his own communities fight against those drug dealers. As a result he, and many other brave men and women, were threatened and lived under threat for a considerable period.

Ultimately that threat ended, but not via the justice of those state agencies tasked with upholding law and order, the RUC and British army.

The situation "resolved" itself due to a combination of good local journalism - which highlighted the issue and which prompted this writers career choice - and the direct involvement of community activists / paramilitaries who managed to persuade these dealers - in a series of kangaroo courts I would presume - that it was time to desist from their activities or move on.

I recall that at least one person associated with drug dealing was shot during this period. Exactly for what and exactly by who I will leave to the historians.

I relate this personal anecdote because it cuts to the core of the issues at the centre of the Maria Cahill case.

A case which has, once again, highlighted a very sad period in this country's history where, for a vast number of people who saw themselves as Irish citizens, the only recourse to law and order within their communities was paramilitary organisations like the IRA.

Máiria Cahill and the pain she has suffered exposes the inadequacy and danger inherent in such a situation.

Such dysfunction inevitably leads to injustices like Máiria Cahill's and the barbarity cited by Aristotle because it places the rule of law and the dispensation of justice in the hands of unaccountable people who - in many cases - did not ask for it and had no idea what to do with it.

This dysfunction happened in our own recent history and is recurring in other countries throughout the world right now.

But what do we do about it?

We point to foreign justice based on systems like Sharia Law as justice under the tree and opine at length at the medieval barbarity.

But we never ask how these countries, these societies, these communities have ended up in this 'medieval' place. Perhaps, because as westerners, the answer will lie too uncomfortably close to home.

What is most disappointing about the commentary around the Máiria Cahill case, therefore, is that we are making the same mistakes.

This issue has, yet again, become a politicised 'who knew what' and 'who knew when' pantomime whose ultimate aim is quite clearly to maximise political damage against this country's fastest growing political party.

What should be the focus, however, is a considered and objective analysis of the circumstances (and ultimately the lessons to be learned) which lead to Máiria Cahill - and so many other people north and south - being failed by both state agencies and paramilitary organisations during this period in our history.

It is only then can we move forward in the creation of a better and truly shared society both north and south.

For those who argue that such a future is not possible whilst those with "blood on their hands" remain central players and wonder at length as to why a party like Sinn Fein is growing in popularity, I say only this ... where were you when my father - when Máiria Cahill - needed you?

The time has come to stop the political point scoring ... what is at stake is far more important than that.

For a truly better and shared Ireland the debate and commentary must centre on the issues and policies that will shape our future, not the issues and dysfunctions that shaped our past.

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