Subtle differences between us and southern neighbours

Murdered Dublin woman Elaine O'Hara
Murdered Dublin woman Elaine O'Hara

It has been described as ‘‘the most sensational and horrific trial of the modern era’’ and last week the population of southern Ireland was transfixed by its conclusion.

This murder trial of the century filled the newspapers and television news bulletins yet, surprisingly, scarcely a word of it was reported in the north’s media.

Sandra Chapman

Sandra Chapman

I don’t know why that is but it brought home to me, during one of my regular visits across the border last week, that not only do we scarcely know our southern neighbours we must be immune to the crime of murder in that part of Ireland, maybe because we‘ve had to deal with so much murder in this part over the past 40 years.

The case centred around the brutal and sadistic murder of a vulnerable 36-year-old woman Elaine O’Hara who had been treated for mental illness. She disappeared after checking out of a psychiatric hospital on August 22, 2012.

A year later her mutilated body was discovered in a remote part of the Dublin Mountains.

The suspect, respected architect Graham Dwyer who, it turned out, led a tawdry life of sadomasochism, was last week convicted of her murder after a nine week trial and the evidence which couldn’t previously be reported by the media was splashed all over the papers and on TV.

The Irish were shocked to the core unable to believe that such evil and debauchery existed in their society. Dwyer, for some reason thought he would get away with it, but he hadn’t reckoned with the skill and persistence of An Garda Siochana.

In the north we’ve had our fair share of horrific murder trials, mostly generated by the Troubles. Yet one domestic murder we too were transfixed by was that of police constable Trevor Buchanan, who for years police had decided had taken his own life. When his murderer Colin Howell finally talked and implicated Buchanan’s wife Hazel Stewart in the murder we were horrified and became transfixed too by a trial which found them both guilty of his death.

This was a notorious trial that didn’t get an awful lot of coverage in the southern press at the time possible because the south’s economy had collapsed and there were other more pressing things to worry about.

It’s hard to say if any of these issues have brought us closer to our southern neighbours. Have they any idea for example of the dramatic changes we in the north are about to undergo in local government – 11 new super councils replacing 26 old ones?

I asked my hosts what they knew of those changes. Blank looks all around, then it was back to discussing the fallout from the Dwyer trial.

One certainty down south is that few have much respect for politicians, bankers and the property millionaires who decamped to Europe’s hot spots when the property crash came.

That much could also be said of northerns too still smarting from a dismal property market, graduate unemployment and an education sector which is collapsing before our very eyes.

Yes, we have much in common with our island neighbours, yet seem as far apart as ever.