PETER Robinson has led the condemnation of the murder of prison officer David Black who was shot dead as he drove to work at Maghaberry.
The First Minister described the killing as an attack on the entire law-abiding community.
Addressing the media in front of Stormont Castle yesterday afternoon, Mr Robinson – along with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness – said the murder would galvanise the community against the killers.
“All of us as we woke up this morning, and looked out at a fresh and bright Ulster morning, did not expect that we would be facing this kind of tragedy during the course of our working day,” he said.
“David Black was murdered serving this community and the family has been devastated. But let’s be clear absolutely – no cause has been furthered.
“We pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of the prison officer who died today. Who has bravely served the community for many decades.
“This isn’t the first time that Martin and I have stood here to condemn this kind of atrocity, but the one common feature of each occasion when it has happened is that it has only served to unify and galvanise the community and its leaders against those who perpetrate this type of crime.”
Calling on anyone with information to contact the PSNI, the First Minister said that would be the “clearest sign of the community’s revulsion” against those responsible.
“Today we remember David’s family who are grieving, and though in time this society will move on, for the family of course the loss in permanent,” he said.
“And I want to express my sympathy and condolences to David’s wife, his son and daughter on behalf of the whole community, and we are prayerfully remembering them at this time.
“Once again, we also take time to remember all of the men and women who protect, who defend and who serve us and this community on a day and daily basis.”
The Deputy First Minister said he also offered his “deepest sympathy and condolences” to the family of David Black.
Mr McGuinness said: “I want to unreservedly condemn his murder. I want to make it absolutely clear that there was no point whatsoever served by this killing.
“What they can’t kill is the peace process, and we are the proof of that. Our community stands four square and united against the activities of these groups.
“And I do believe there is a responsibility on those who, every now and again, act as mouthpieces for these groups, to step forward and explain to the public the rationale behind this totally pointless and futile killing.”
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she “utterly condemned” the “cowardly and evil” attack.
“The thoughts and deepest sympathy of us all are with the family, friends and colleagues of the murdered prison officer,” she said.
Ms Villiers added: “Like his colleagues across the Prison Service he was dedicated to serving the whole community in Northern Ireland.
“This is in stark contrast to the people responsible for this despicable crime.”
Shadow Secretary of State Vernon Coaker said: “Prison officers do a remarkable job in very difficult circumstances.
“An attack on any one them is an attack on the criminal justice system, the law and the community. These terrorists seek only to hurt and destroy peace and progress. They will not succeed.”
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt also offered his condolences to the Black family and added: “Those who have carried out this attack on an innocent man represent the past and have nothing to offer the men, women and children of this country who have long since rejected terrorism.
“At this stage I would ask people to focus on supporting this man’s family and that if anyone has information regarding this attack, to contact the Police Service of Northern Ireland.”
Jim Allister, leader of the TUV, said the family would be in the thoughts and prayers of people everywhere.
He said: “Once again violent republicanism has brought death to our streets. This murder is no different from the many other attacks on Prison Service staff carried out by the Provisional IRA. There was no justification then and there is no justification now.”
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd, who represents the Lurgan area where a car believed to have been used in the murder was recovered, described the killing as “utterly pointless” and added: “It will resolve nothing either within the prisons or in wider society. It is not part of any strategy or campaign.”
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said: “The slaughter of a man who left his family in the full expectation of seeing them again that night is a disgrace to democracy and a true human tragedy.”
In the Republic, Taoiseach Enda Kenny described Mr Black’s killing as “a brutal murder” and said people north and south continue to reject such violence.
“I utterly condemn the actions of those who carried it out and their scant regard for human life,” he said.
“I wish to extend my deepest sympathy and those of the Irish people to the family of the victim and to his colleagues.”
Terry Spence, the chairman of the NI Police Federation, also condemned the “callous and cowardly” murder.
“Prison officers and police officers alike are aware of the deadly threat from dissident terrorists who won’t face up to the fact that Northern Ireland has moved on and will not go back to its awful past,” said Mr Spence.
The Progressive Unionist Party’s prisons spokesman, Ken Wilkinson, said he offered his sincere condolences to the murdered officer’s family and that the killing was to be “utterly condemned”.
Mr Wilkinson said that, if prisoners and their supporters have grievances, there are mechanisms in place to deal with them without resorting to attacking officers.
“I have worked for several years with the prison authorities and always found them to be more than helpful,” he said.