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Self Sacrifice

Detective Garda Colm Horkan, RIP

Gardaí at the scene in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, where Det Garda Colm Horkan died after being shot on Wednesday night. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Dr Melanie Brown, Dublin City Interfaith Forum

Friday, 19th June 2020

Embedded in the theology of many world religions is the notion of sacrifice. Now observed in mainly abstract terms, sacrifice exists within various contexts and takes different forms. It is seen as an indication of appeasement towards a deity or deities; it may represent the achievement of transcendent belief; it can be an act of atonement, an acceptance of personal or collective guilt and responsibility, a gesture towards restorative justice. It is at times self-serving, asserting a self-image of moral pulchritude in return for self-immolation or self-denial; or it is selfless, self-sacrificial.

Self-sacrifice is an ethical position which transcends individual or collective belief systems. Self-sacrifice forgoes personal gain in pursuit of the common good. During the global pandemic through which we are living, we have seen countless examples of self-sacrifice: front-line medical workers risking their health to treat the sick; all those who work at keeping us governed, safe, warm, fed, medicated, transported, informed and entertained while most have the luxury of shielding ourselves by staying at home; citizens who volunteer to assist the vulnerable, the lonely and the helpless in this and other times of need.

Detective Garda Colm Horkan, as a public servant, sacrificed himself. He put the interests of public security far beyond his own safety. His life was cruelly and tragically ended in an ugly inversion of the moral position which assures us that justice will prevail. Human sacrifice has no place in our so-called enlightened, democratic Western society. This callous disregard for human life – murder – should be repugnant to each of us. Yet the rise of casual killing among our own and other societies suggests that this is not the case. There are gaps in our collective moral framework which have created space for the slaughter of Detective Garda Colm Horkan in the execution of his job.

Many of us are familiar with religious scriptures which enjoin us against the futile robbing of a human life. Yet ethical treatment of others, and the morality which guides these ethics, are not the sole preserve of religion, and should not be regarded thus. Believers and non-believers alike; those who embrace the rhythms and rituals of faith, and those who question or reject them; as members of Irish society, it is incumbent upon all of us to mourn the loss of Detective Garda Colm Horkan. Only in doing so can we try and repair the damage to our society; to atone; to seek justice.

Both the Paschal Lamb and the Agnus Dei of Judeo-Christian tradition symbolise religious sacrifice; to avoid worldly destruction by the expiation of sin. Qui tollis peccata mundi: a difficult concept with which we might struggle in the current circumstances. Should we all bear collective responsibility for the maintenance – or dissolution – of our society? Who will bear responsibility for this crime, and others? A life was taken; surely we must seek to prevent other such atrocities. Colm Horkan met his death protecting society; protecting us. His wanton sacrifice should not have been needed; we do not give thanks for his death. Only for his life.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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