A week ago this morning, Ireland woke up to shocking news. We were reminded by the callous, collateral, almost casual murder of Lyra McKee by the latest anti-democratic terrorists that the old hatreds, the dangerous delusions, linger.
It was as if the atrocity was a reminder that evolution is an uneven, staggered thing, creeping along at varying speeds.
This unevenness was recognised all those years ago when Seamus Mallon, a man committed to the peaceful, political resolution of conflict, described the Good Friday Agreement as “Sunningdale for slow learners”.
The atrocity of McKee’s murder showed that we have fewer and fewer slow learners — even if we still have far too many, as exemplified by the Saoradh parades which took place in Dublin and Cork hours after McKee’s murder. The universal outrage provoked by those parades showed how uneven evolution can be.
The description of Saoradh as “criminal” rather than “patriotic” by relatives of participants in the 1916 Rising, at a wreath-laying ceremony in Dublin on Wednesday, reflects precisely the majority view of that tiny faction.
This week’s protest in Derry, when friends of McKee refused to be cowed by the passive aggression of the goons outside the headquarters of the ‘dissident republicans’ and left images of blood-stained hands on the walls, spoke volumes.
That at least 140 people have offered information to the PSNI investigating the murder spoke even more loudly and clearly. Anyone who remembers a time when the IRA of the 1970s kidnapped and murdered a widowed mother of 10, Jean McConville, on unfounded suspicions of helping the police, cannot but be astounded.
Maybe the IRA leaders of those days were more forceful, more interested in results than methods, but it is unimaginable that anyone would have had the courage, and survived, had they protested at Sinn Féin offices over one IRA atrocity or another during those years.
The response to last week’s murder, and to those pathetic parades suggests that a critical momentum has been reached, that our political evolution has crossed a Rubicon and pulled up the drawbridge. This must mean, if this dripping-slow evolution is to have any heft, that violence, and those who perpetrate it, will no longer be tolerated. However, the most pressing problem is to give that determination real meaning.
The declaration from DUP leader Arlene Foster that McKee’s death was not a result of a political vacuum underlines the scale of the challenge.
“That’s not to say that we [politicians] don’t bear responsibility because there is no Assembly,” she conceded.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has also said she wanted to restore Stormont, declaring that, if there was the political will, the impasse could be “sorted out in one hour”.
Both these leaders, each appointed rather than elected, must be aware of growing speculation that they are, like Theresa May, about to be replaced. If they cannot recognise the wave of outrage provoked by McKee’s death and restore meaningful, representative political life in the North they will show themselves slow learners and deserve to be rejected in ignominy and something close enough to disgrace.