Saturday 18 November 2017

Anton Savage: Disgust over Graham Dwyer's notes shows Irish respect for victims of crimes

Graham Dwyer
Graham Dwyer

Letters written by Graham Dwyer to his ex-girlfriend have been withdrawn from sale by eBay.

The web giant says that it prohibits the sale of items related to violent crimes out of respect to victims' families. It's a noble idea and one which puts eBay culturally much closer to Ireland than its home country of America.

The States has long had an industry built around horror crimes. From Ted Bundy to Jeffrey Dahmer - American publishers and filmmakers have made a fortune on dissecting and re-enacting crimes.

Hundreds of retired cops and private investigators have made their livings attributing motive and method to killers and countless TV interviewers have made names for themselves by securing 'the interview' with a significant criminal.

The same doesn't tend to happen in Ireland. For a long time we might have assumed that was because our criminals were less floridly horrific than their US counterparts.

No Irish reporter was going to get the revelations that Stone Philips got from Jeffrey Dahmer, who told the interviewer the nearest he came to getting caught was when his father sat on a trunk at the end of his bed.

Phillips asked what the chest contained - 'mummified body parts' was the reply.

We never had a killer whose crimes were that grotesquely tabloid. Until Graham Dwyer.

Everything about his crime was what crime TV producers would call 'box office'. A dual-life, shocking perversion, predatory exploitation and unbridled desire to inflict pain and take life for sexual pleasure.

In America filming would have started on the made-for-TV movie before the conviction was even in.

This is not to suggest we ignored the trial. We didn't. We gorged, with blanket coverage.

But once the verdict was in, our appetite went away. No TV movie, no documentary specials. A number of journalists wrote books on the crime but the best-seller lists were largely untroubled by them.

In part this is because of how small our national community is. People knew Elaine O'Hara. They know her family, her colleagues. Our relative smallness makes the crime real.

The US is big enough that the vast majority of people do not feel a connection with the victims of horror crimes.


Scale blurs reality and ghastly crimes become dramas, as opposed to real things done to real people.

Here we do not have that distance and we are better for it.

We are not left with the story of Graham Dwyer's gruesome deed. We are left with the story of Elaine O'Hara's sad, tragic and brutal death.

That crucial difference means no Irish company would have tried to profit from something connected to Dwyer, because they would know they were implicitly profiting from the suffering of Elaine O'Hara.

That the letters went up for sale at all is unfortunate, but in taking them down eBay has shown you don't have to be part of a small community to share that community's empathy.

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