Northern Ireland news

Jarlath Kearney: Futures cannot be built with bombs or bullets

 Forensic officers work at the scene of the fatal shooting in the Creggan estate in Derry of journalist Lyra McKee. Picture by Brian Lawless, PA Wire

It has no identity. It is cold; inanimate; a small work of manufactured metal.

It has been measured and made – not by its own initiative, not by its own ‘self-determination’. Rather by the grubby fingers of a death factory.

It has no ideology or politics because it is – quite literally – unable to change direction. It has no perspective, no peripheral vision, no wider horizon. No concept of anything beyond its crosshair myopia.

It has no justice, equality or rights because it was created to destroy those whom it’s never even met, whose case it will never hear.

It has no sense of history, nor hope, nor horror, because it can never foresee all that it might do.

It has no compassion or critical thinking because it imposes a death penalty as the price for democratic choice; because it bludgeons a citizen’s fair employment or freedom of speech into a family’s bloodied tragedy.

Jarlath Kearney

It has no imagination because it fires only dogma; it doesn’t enlighten ideas.

It has no love because it ignores its impact.

It is a brutal weapon, a professional murder machine; a gun firing bullets insanely into a darkened city street.

Or maybe it is a horizontal mortar, welded crudely, awkwardly angled and mangled, and dumped by a disused home in the overgrown undergrowth of a quiet country roadside.

Both are as heartless. Both deny life. Both propel death.

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Maybe at a young woman whose life’s journey and talent was brightly flowering in the free speech of our developing democracy. Maybe at an ordinary public servant, with union membership, doing their everyday work in a police vehicle.

Both weapons are loaded, the same. Both let an anonymous person murder an anonymous person. Except that no one is anonymous. Everyone is a someone.

The rifle’s bullet and the mortar’s bomb are obscenities to a society where the opportunity for non-violently expressing diverse democratic opinion has never been greater. Both are apolitical.

They are a catastrophic rejection of the plain truth that this society still needs time and space to work at getting many things right; that we need another generation of enhanced peacefulness and functioning politics to even begin breathing in life’s fresh air again after smothering decades of dehumanising conflict.

So why has the bullet or the bomb got no sense of identity? No ideology or politics? No justice? No compassion? No history? No hope? No vision? No love? The answers are self-evident: the weapons’ owners own them.

Dignity stands innate, universal. For everyone. Its inviolability is gifted by our creation; our celebration, not destruction. Yet every time another’s dignity is denied or traduced, the culprit naturally surrenders some of their own.

The devastation of dignity is a vicious cycle from which this society has really only been beginning to emerge through the slow-dropping virtues of stuttering steps in generosity.

The milestones of mutual brutality became the bloodstained signposts to peaceful evolution. We somewhat learned about life’s value in retrospect, society’s moral compass buried under the tragedies. For far too long. For far too many. Hard lessons having broken the hardest hearts.

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No one with any attachment to dignity, any sincere sense of identity, any critical thinking, any history and hope, any genuine compassion and love, could ever imagine a more perversely beautiful locality for murdering others in today’s Ireland than the stunningly scenic road at Drumnaquoile on the way towards Castlewellan or the vibrant streets of Creggan where my daughters grew up learning Irish through the life-enhancing gaelscoil in which they started as the very first pupils - exactly 20 years ago, in peacetime.

The transformative local cultures of these communities can trace back millennia beyond artificial borders of the head and the heart, to Legananny dolmen at Slieve Croob and the fort of Grianán an Aileach above Burt.

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They are cultures filled with love running deeper than the Mourne Mountains and the Sperrins; love for the spiritual geography on which families – from ancient Celts to Ulster-Scots Presbyterians – made their homes; love for the potential that today’s society is increasingly giving to young people who deserve the right to decide their destiny without ever again looking over their shoulders. Without being murdered.

No one should need reminded of Tommy Sands’s ballad. But in case they do: “There were roses. And the tears of the people ran together.”

Our souls must never forget our difficult past. But our spirits must scream truth for the living today. Faith in a doctrine of death is failure. Futures cannot be built with bombs or bullets – by any side, in any way. We must today grasp ever more closely the healing hope of the Easter season.

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