Twenty one years ago this week, a deal was signed in Belfast that undoubtedly gifted many people with a future who would otherwise now be cold in the ground. The Good Friday Agreement saved lives in Northern Ireland and brought a measure of consensual politics, but there is no tent big enough to accommodate the sadists who inspired and now evade all responsibility for the death of journalist Lyra McKee on Thursday night in Derry.
She was murdered standing at police lines reporting on rioting orchestrated by dissident republicans who, in their desperation to kill Irish men and women in uniform protecting a community they hold hostage, took her life instead. The self-serving ‘apology’ later issued from a mouthpiece for the New IRA gunman, the apparently revolutionary but not very socialist ‘Saoradh,’ blamed the police for her death stating, ‘a republican volunteer attempted to defend people…after an incursion by heavily armed crown forces.’
While these people don’t warrant a footnote in Irish history, it is worth dwelling for a moment on the philosophy of such reckless, deluded cruelty.
Saoradh has no seats on any local, regional or national legislature on the island of Ireland. They reject the constitutional settlement of the Agreement endorsed by overwhelming numbers of people on either side of the Irish border. Their legitimacy is an act of almost cinematic narcissism. In poor and damaged nationalist housing estates like Creggan they and the goons they animate decry any police response to the violent extremism they foment. It is an act of gleeful subversion against the very community they affect to love. The puerile self-importance of their ‘analysis’ is full of the usual conspiracist agit-prop that reduces everyone who opposes their worldview to the role of colonial lackeys without agency, humanity or complexity. ‘Crown forces’ are not human beings in uniform with diverse identities and backstories, they are merely targets. If the bullseye had been hit last night and the Irish woman bleeding her life away on the ground wore a police uniform, there would not have even been the pretence of an apology, just repulsive satisfaction.
Dissident republicans who reject a peaceful, settled Northern Ireland have their dismal work cut out for them. Outside their strutting fiefdoms of three or four streets of crumbling social housing the world still turns and produces people like Lyra McKee, Belfast millennials who were toddlers when the IRA laid down its arms and who were part of a hopeful new story. I didn’t know Lyra at all well but I was impressed by her determination to succeed over the unique odds a conservative society throws at people like her. She was curious, funny and determined. She was ferociously talented. She was interested in people, like the best of her profession and this is revealed by the genuine disbelief and sadness at her senseless loss across Northern Ireland’s political trenches. She was someone
to watch. But not like this.
People will want to do something to honour Lyra McKee’s life and to mourn the brutal curtailment of so much potential. But the response must be more than political pieties and guttering candles. Lyra McKee deserves more than vigils because her life must mean more than the way she died. Violent extremism flourishes when communities allow their young to be indoctrinated. The scourge of dissident republicanism requires a continuing supply of radicalised young people to survive. It needs grooming opportunities for those extremists to exploit and use young people to spoon feed them the lies and myths that sustains hatred. Defeating this curse is not a task that can be achieved by government, even if an executive was functioning. It can’t be internationalised and it won’t be solved in Brussels, Dublin or London. This is a Derry problem. It will have to be confronted and extinguished, street by street, by decent people who have to find the courage and determination to deny these fanatics the spaces and places to destroy another generation. All people of goodwill on the island of Ireland and beyond should stand with them in doing so.
The people who took Lyra McKee’s life are the ultimate aberration of the spirit of the 1916 Easter Rising they claim ownership of. The blood sacrifice they demanded last night will drive them out of business if there’s any justice in the world. But we’ve been here before with previous versions of the IRA, driven into obscurity after atrocities like the 1998 Omagh bomb, only to slink back on to the stage in slightly different clothes when the condemnation dies and new opportunities to pervert grievance emerge. We have to drive a stake through the heart of this hateful ideology. Lyra McKee, her family and the thousands who preceded her to an early grave deserve nothing less. As her beloved partner Sara said earlier today, ‘This cannot stand.’