The country might be booming but the Padraig Nally case says a lot about the real Ireland and poses some difficult questions for rural communities.
Whatever the outcome of his retrial, let us hope that Mr Nally’s next trial will be without complication. Justice must be done and be seen to be done and someone is always innocent until proven guilty.
But at least Mr Nally got a trial. The quashing of his conviction means that every effort will be made to ensure that his next court appearance will be above challenge. His victim, John ‘Frog’ Ward, will have no such option open to him.
The right to defend oneself is always going to cause controversy. Using violence to stop intruders should be an option of the last resort. Anybody forced to do so must be in the grasp of desperation.
But what sort of society have we if a small farmer needs to fire a gun at another person to protect himself?
Over the last few weeks the Gardaí have carried out a huge security operation to get Shell workers onto the site at Bellanboy.
Arguably, the gardaí are doing their duty for the Irish nation by assisting in extracting gas which in the long run will benefit Ireland’s economy and bring jobs to Mayo.
It is unfair to attack the Gardaí for doing their job and some of those blocking the workers have an agenda which has little to do with the safety of people living in Rossport.
However, as Dr Jerry Cowley TD has been told, the cost of the operation is being paid for by Irish taxpayers.
Excluding the reserve force, we will soon have 14,000 gardaí in the country. At present there are just 273 gardaí stationed in County Mayo. These gardaí have responsibility for policing one of the biggest counties in the country and they are also responsible for parts of Sligo and Galway.
The Government decided to draft 170 gardaí into Bellanaboy on the first day Shell workers went back on site. By the end of last week €750,000 had been spent on the security operation involving hundreds of police.
Fair enough, but, one has to wonder how often patrol cars or uniformed gardaí are seen on the rural roads around the county? Most of the smaller garda stations have closed and the ‘Green Man’ telecommunications system is virtually obsolete.
The absence of a police presence leaves rural areas exposed and vulnerable. Not investing in rural policing comes at a cost. Surely, what Padraig Nally did cannot be divorced from the under investment in policing and services in rural areas. If there was some sort of quick access to the gardaí in Cross, John ‘Frog’ Ward might be alive today and eleven children would still have a father.
But there is another side to this case that cannot be forgotten – the sanctity of human life. A Christian community must rally around when one of its own is in trouble. But in doing so people must also admit that what happened was wrong – a human being was shot dead. They should also realise that what happened sets a dangerous precedent. People in rural areas are fooling themselves if they think they can fight fire with fire.
A farmer’s shotgun is no match for an Uzi of which there are plenty in Ireland today. Criminals are not ordinary or decent. They live by crime and their tools are guns which they will use without much thought. Ordinary people should not stoop to that level – since it is ordinary people that keep society decent and safe.
In truth, Padraig Nally was not confronted by a ruthless, hardened criminal. If he was, he would not have been able to aim his shotgun never mind pull the trigger. He would be dead.
Without doubt, it is time for small communities to fight for their safety; but they must do so by peaceful means and this will demand real courage. With a General Election on the cards they must confront their politicians.