Yesterday in Belfast Gerard Jock Davison was laid to rest. He was accorded the routine IRA funeral rites that the organisation provides for those who not just comprised its membership but who more decidedly stayed on board with the wayward direction in which the Provisional project had travelled.
Since his murder almost a week ago there has been a legitimacy battle at play over his legacy. The statement in yesterday’s Irish News by a host of community groups extolling his virtues sounded too much as if it had been composed by a Sinn Fein PRO. In its one dimensionality it suffered the same deficiency it had angrily accused the media of. It focussed almost exclusively on now and ignored then while charging that the media had mischievously done the opposite.
What makes Jock Davison’s legacy so contentious was his presence in Magennis’s Bar on the night of the death of Robert McCartney, murdered in a knife attack in January 2005. Two of Robert McCartney’s sisters have in the days since Davison’s murder taken to the media to offer critical commentary, focussing on his past as an IRA activist, dismissing his later role as a community development worker, and challenging the one dimensional view they felt was unfairly gaining sway.
Despite my unequivocal endorsement of the McCartney women's justice campaign, I harboured no personal animus towards Jock Davison. His death saddened me in a way that it did not the McCartney women in that I regretted his passing and not just the immeasurable grief it caused his family. Nevertheless, I felt their intervention, while at times unnecessarily acerbic, was important in that it added symmetry to a public discourse that was dangerously close to promoting a fiction through omission.
In tributes to Jock Davison it was said that he was murdered by thugs. True. But Robert McCartney was also murdered by thugs. There is simply no other way of describing what happened that January evening ten years ago. The criminal content of an action cannot be legitimised away on the grounds that the IRA or its members were involved. What happened during the post-bar row was not a military mission by an active service unit but a knife attack by a gang. And it was Jock Davison’s alleged role on the evening that made him the subject of much public scrutiny both in the wake of Robert McCartney’s death and again following his own murder.
For his part Jock Davison always denied any wrongdoing other than being involved in a row. While it is known for certain that he did not accompany the knife gang into the alleyway where Robert McCartney was butchered, the McCartney women have consistently maintained that he in effect procured and counselled the murder of their brother by giving the order for an action that led directly to him being stabbed and beaten to death.
While it is understandably unpalatable for the McCartney sisters, Jock Davison was never convicted of any crime in respect of their murdered brother. Which means if he was up to the task of a community development worker, there was no procedural reason to deny him the post. He was an acutely intelligent man and since his death I have wondered what he might have brought to his community work with the first class honours degree he was due to secure; if he would have put the community sector first or subordinated its needs to the imperatives of Sinn Fein to which he undoubtedly remained loyal. Given the IRA funeral the balance of probability shifts towards the latter.
While the McCartney sisters felt his death was no loss to the community this is a view not shared by everybody working in the community sector including some who have no particular reason to be receptive to Sinn Fein. Councillor Paula Bradshaw of the Alliance Party certainly found his input a positive one, describing him as a “committed worker", and speaking of her "deep sadness at the loss of Gerard from the community sector".
Unfortunately, the best summation I can offer is also a terse one. Jock Davison was a community worker. He was also central to events that led to the murder of Robert McCartney, about which full and frank disclosure still seems as elusive as it was ten years ago.