Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Irish and the Comfort of the Victims' Cross

Inishowen Peninsula, North-West Ireland, where in the words of the Chief Justice of Ireland "a stain of the darkest dye on the otherwise generally fine tradition of the Garda," was perpetrated against a citizen of a Republic and it has taken 14 years to get justice.

It's easier to see another's faults than our own, as it is collectively as a people.

Every wrong can be blamed on outsiders and it has usually been the British as far as we're concerned.

Following years of revelations about gross misconduct by gardaí (Irish police) in County Donegal, it has taken the Supreme Court to set out in the starkest terms, the "disreputable conduct and a shocking abuse of power" on the part of two members of the Garda who had conspired to concoct false evidence against him, resulting in perjured Garda evidence being given at his trial and his conviction.

For the innocent victim Frank Shortt, it was "a tormenting saga of imprisonment, mental and physical deterioration, estrangement from family, loss of business, public and professional ignominy and despair". He was "sacrificed in order to assist the career ambitions of a number of members of the Garda".

The 14-year nightmare for wrongly jailed Co Donegal nightclub owner Frank Shortt ended with a €4.7 million damages award from the Supreme Court, including an unprecedented €1 million punitive damages award, to mark the court's abhorrence of "outrageous conduct" by gardaí towards him.

The five-judge court increased from €1.9 million to €4.7 million the award of damages made to Mr Shortt by the High Court arising from his wrongful conviction and imprisonment on trumped-up charges that he allowed the sale of drugs at his former nightclub in Inishowen.

The award includes €1 million punitive damages to reflect the court's disapproval of what Chief Justice Mr Justice John Murray described as an affair which was "a stain of the darkest dye on the otherwise generally fine tradition of the Garda" and the "especially grave" abuse of Mr Shortt by two gardaí - Supt Kevin Lennon and Det Garda Noel McMahon. The damages were awarded against the State.

It has taken a public tribunal and more than a decade for the 72-year old Frank Shortt to get justice. If he had lived across the border in Northern Ireland and had suffered the same fate, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern would have likely interceded with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on his behalf.

The long comfort of the victims' cross has clearly made it hard for some of us to face the truth about ourselves, despite the lip-service that flows so easily about the ideals of a republic.