The first target to be hit in the arc of fire from the Tele was the conglomeration of community groups that had expressed collective sympathy for the murdered Davison in the Irish News. The Tele admonished that:
It is not difficult to understand the anger of the McCartney sisters in reacting to Saturday's Irish News advertisement headlined 'Doing Justice To The Memory of Jock Davison', the former IRA commander who was gunned down on a Belfast street last week.
The paper went on to lambast the groups behind the ad for "the further pain inflicted upon the McCartney sisters with the utter crassness of the whole venture”.
It is never difficult to understand the anger of the bereaved in any situation towards what they believe to be the cause of their grief. In this case where the relatives of Robert McCartney were smeared, lied to, given the runaround inter alia by the organisation to which Gerard Davison belonged, it is even easier to understand. What is more difficult to make allowance for is a major newspaper editorial emitting what sounded like a shrill scream of ‘be silent’ towards a differing view.
Even though the ad placed in the Irish News was unadulterated hagiography, those who wish to express the view within it should be entirely free to do so and the Irish News is not to be faulted for publishing it. Death ads are rarely noted for their objectivity and balance.
There are questions to be asked about who in the community groups featured, actually approved or even knew anything about the ad that appeared in their name. Catherine McCartney has also asked about how the ad was financed. These are specificities that should be filtered out from the general right of community groups or individuals in the community sector, publicly and in print, to air their respect for a murdered colleague.
The Telegraph sought to justify its own stance by citing Catherine McCartney, who told the paper that:
it is utterly inappropriate that community groups, particularly those representing women and children, are honouring someone who brought death and destruction into the lives of women and children across this city.
I take the opposite view, finding it peculiar were the groups not to honour one of their own, that they should be told that only some victims of murder are to be honoured, in some way being compelled to acquiesce in the view that some murders are less murderous that others. I know that when the onetime UVF leader and later community worker Billy Mitchell died, I attended his Carrick funeral and later penned an obituary in tribute of him. I did this in the full knowledge that he had helped direct the UVF campaign.
The basis for the assertion made by Catherine McCartney seems to have been Jock Davison’s membership of the IRA and her belief of what he did while in it. In a public exchange with myself Catherine McCartney claimed that Davison was a murder suspect. That is not evidence of murder, just evidence that the police claim to have suspicions that somebody is involved in murder. There are serious questions to be asked of the police in the case of Robert McCartney’s murder as to whom they suspected of just what. The police put a “suspect” in this case before a court as the knifeman in the certain knowledge that he was not.
Not that Catherine McCartney is wrong about the activities of Jock Davison. As a former senior IRA leader we would be deluding ourselves to think he played no part in directing the IRA’s war which during its course brought grief to many homes. But an aggregate of assumptions and police suspicions are not the basis for how people are to be procedurally treated within society, where the rule of law and not rule by police is supposed to be the bedrock of how people interact with the public sphere including the work place. We as individuals can believe what we want about people, refuse to deal with them and deny them access to our private space. Society cannot on the basis of that belief treat them as if they are in fact guilty of what we believe them guilty of and subsequently, on the basis of suspicion, exclude them.
The second target of the Tele was Alliance Party councillor and community worker, Paula Bradshaw.
It is therefore all the more understandable that Paula Bradshaw, the Alliance election candidate in South Belfast, outraged the McCartney sisters when she described Jock Davison as "a committed worker", and that "what he did before that in his past is for others to comment upon".
If Davison was a committed worker, as Bradshaw claims to have found him, she was wholly right to express that view. Billy Mitchell too was a committed worker. If Paula Bradshaw came to view Jock Davison in a certain light based on her experience, that is her judgement. She is not demanding that everybody else see him that way. Nor is she justifying his past, but merely implying that it had no bearing on his work and that others who know, rather than suspect, are best placed to discuss it.
Nor can it be demanded of her that her experience be gainsaid by what is essentially the hearsay of others regarding the past of Jock Davison. Apart from his membership of the IRA, in a situation where the rule of law had not ruled against him, what could she state with conviction about him? For her to have been the recipient of editorial fulminations that managed to sound more like a TUV press release than the voice of reason, was the real crassness at the heart of this hectoring venture.
Stripped of editorial posturing Paula Bradshaw is being vilified for nothing more than describing how she experienced Jock Davison. It is vitally important that people are free to make up their own minds based on the knowledge they have obtained. The notion that people must eschew a view of Jock Davison not congruent with our own is anathema to thinking people.
Finally, the Tele stated:
It is no wonder that Catherine McCartney has stated in today's Belfast Telegraph that Paula Bradshaw's "crass comment illustrates how badly victims are treated in Northern Ireland".
Victims have been shoddily treated. There is little room for doubt on that, although not because of Paula Bradshaw. Victims’ anger as a means of curbing bad treatment is salutary. Victims’ status as a swagger stick, in the hands of whoever, for clubbing opinion and marginalising discourse that dissents from victims' demands is something of a different order.