Friday, January 14, 2005

Somebody Got Murdered

The country has been gripped by the story of Robert Holohan, an 11-year old Cork boy who was found dead two days ago after being missing since January 4th. Midleton, where the boy was from, is a small town close to Cork City (where I currently live and work). There's a lot of people working with me from that general area that know the family.

In all honesty, and I'm really struggling to put this properly so that I don't sound callous, I'm unable to share the extent of grief that others seem to be able to summon up. There's two reasons, I think. The first is, obviously, that I didn't know the boy or any of his family and the second is that, as I have no children of my own, there is no point in me pretending to be able to imagine the fear that this murder must be causing for the people of the area.

Do I think, then, that the grief of strangers is false in some way? I really don't know. People react to news like this in their own way (and I doubt anyone is pretending to grieve) but this murder has certainly highlighted again an issue that periodically infuriates me - how and why people value one life over another (I know the deliberate abduction and murder of a defenceless young child is very different to, say, a car accident) but, despite a high profile publicity campaign, there was never the emotion we have seen for young Robert Holohan shown for Trevor Deely (who has never been found) or Philip Cairns who went missing in 1986 and was only 13 at the time. What makes their cases different? Age? The passage of time?...

We have yet to reach the emotion levels of the Soham murders in England in 2002, a "media fuelled trauma", but it doesn't mean we won't. Already on the radio phone in programmes the reactionaries are out with their "crime out of control" lines. It's all "can't let our children out the door", "paedophiles should be locked up and the key thrown away", "people have a right to know when convicted sex offenders are living in their midst", "everyone should have their DNA on file" and, the ultimate cliche, "things will never be the same again" which, as the deaths of Princess Diana and September 11th have shown, is contemptible rubbish.

At times like this, of course, it is very difficult to be rational in the face of grief, loss and anger but the fact does remain that the probabaility of any child in Ireland being kidnapped or murdered is miniscule despite the Holohan family's loss. Already we're in danger of emulating the ridiculous situation following the Sarah Payne murder in England where wrongly identified people and even a paediatrician were hounded and attacked by mobs (again the fault of the tabloid media - the News of the World in this case). As for restricting our civil liberties I was always a "if you do nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear" sort until the Donegal Garda corruption case blew up, which proved that miscarriages of justice aren't just restricted to tinpot police states. Or Britain!
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