The shock waves sent out by yesterday morning’s killing of Markets man Gerard "Jock" Davison in Belfast continue to ripple giving rise to neither shortage of speculation nor plenitude of insight. Topped up with the obligatory dollop of inaccurate tabloid sensationalism and laced with the musing of schadenfreude-driven gloaters on social media, other than that a man has been arrested most of us seem none the wiser as to what lies behind the killing.
In terms of protesting the murder, it hardly matters who killed Jock Davison or why they did. There is nothing good about the killing and everything bad. People have the right to walk the streets free from murder. Those who seek to murder should not be free to walk the streets. Context as mitigation will simply not cut the mustard.
Mick Fealty at Slugger has been pilloried for describing the killing as an interesting development. Much ado about very little and perhaps more of an early but futile attempt to dissuade Fealty from bringing to the surface discourse associating the dead man with the fate of Robert McCartney, murdered in 2005. It would be a much greater problem were the appalling Davison murder not an interesting development. This was an unarmed member of the public brutally gunned down as he set out to do a day’s work. Disinterest sets in when these killings are viewed as routine, nothing to be concerned about or interested it. It was no different from the murderous attack on Joe O’Connor in Ballymurphy in October 2000. He was gunned down while he sat in a car by people as pernicious as yesterday's killers. That too was an interesting development and if society is not interested in such horrific occurrences it may expect more of them to develop.
My own experience of Jock Davison was not a bad one. Initially hostile to the peace process, claiming that a description of it as a “strategic disaster” was a understatement, there was lobbying at one point to have him installed as chief of staff at the age of 27. Then, like many others who swore to resist the peace process, he came to embrace it, adopting a critical although not overly hostile stance towards those not on board. While attitudinally typical of the my movement right or wrong malady that paralysed critical thinking within the Provisionals he was always more approachable and likeable than many of his associates. One of his former colleagues now wholly at odds with Sinn Fein described him today as "mannerly and courteous." It was invariably how I found him, causing me some surprise when his name emerged the morning after Robert McCartney died. Unlike many others said to be involved in the attack he had not developed a reputation for bullying.
He hailed from a Markets family well-known for its association with republican activity. His father is mentioned on a number of occasions in Southside Provisional by the former IRA operative Ciaran Conway. An uncle was shot dead by Loyalists in 1988 while another was the released internee nominated to provide context to prisoner releases resulting from a temporary IRA ceasefire in January 1975. Other family members had travelled through the prison system as a consequence of their republican activism.
The rapid appearance on the scene of yesterday's killing by people who were senior colleagues of Jock Davison during his IRA years was a statement that he was their man, despite the suggestions that he had become a persona non grata in the aftermath of the McCartney murder.
While it is often put forward that some event or incident threatens the peace process without there being any real substance to it, it is not hard to imagine how an event like this could have repercussions. Regardless of who murdered Jock Davison few should delude themselves that the current or former Provisional IRA activists who gathered grim faced at yesterday’s murder scene, will hang around like sitting ducks for some score settler of any hue to declare open season on them. That alone will create a strategic pressure within the PSNI, in addition to the more normative investigatory one, to deliver results in this case sooner rather than later.