Yesterday, 18th April, marked the two-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Northern Irish journalist and campaigner, Lyra McKee (29). Her death caused international outcry and forced us to acknowledge the remaining existence of paramilitary violence. Two years on, we look at the continued use of paramilitary violence since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the often-ineffective policing combating the violence, and the justice campaign that Lyra’s family have launched.
The life and death of Lyra McKee
A tonal shift occurred in Northern Ireland after the death of Lyra McKee. She died on Holy Thursday, and what followed was a harrowing Good Friday. On a day that is normally reserved on looking back on the 1998 Good Friday agreement and how far we have come in building a share society, this day was filled with an eerie silence and dread. For those who live through the time of the Troubles, the headline of Lyra’s death was as if the clocks had been turned back overnight. For those born in the time of the peace agreement, Lyra McKee represented the empty promises made to us a depressed and stagnant society we grew up in. Lyra wrote ‘Suicide of the Ceasefire Babies’ to convey this –
“The Ceasefire Babies was what they called us. Those too young to remember the worst of the terror…destined to never witness the horrors of war but to reap in the spoils of peace. The spoils just never seemed to reach us.”
Lyra’s powerful words chimed within all those who grew up thankful for peace but watching people around them take their own lives in hopelessness for the future. Economic stagnation and divisive politics has driven many of The Ceasefire Babies elsewhere in hope for a better future. Despite acknowledging the stark reality her generation face, Lyra McKee never lost hope for change. It was the uplifting tweet on her account reading “here’s to better times ahead and saying goodbye to bombs and bullets once and for all” that sent shockwaves of grief across her homeland, over 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
The New IRA and police arrests
The death of Lyra McKee saw the public affirmation of the existence of the New IRA or ‘Saoradh’ who, in the wake of Lyra’s death, claimed responsibility for the shooting. Their street presence was increased despite public outcry against them and the atrocities they committed. The New IRA was seen as the orchestrators of the riots that occurred the night Lyra McKee was shot. The bleak reality of that night’s riots, scenes of young adults and teenagers in a stand-off with police forces was that they were not seen as out of the ordinary; until the gun was handed over. Two teenagers were arrested in relation to Lyra McKee’s death only a couple of days later. Several arrests were made in the time after Lyra’s death. In a moment of hope, a man was charged with Lyra’s murder. However, since then there has been little progress. The man charged, Paul McIntyre, was to be granted bail due to delays in the case due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic rages on there can be little hope for progress in justice for Lyra McKee’s partner, her friends and family.
Since Lyra’s death, the pattern of youth violence against the Police Service of Northern Ireland became commonplace, with the most recent riots involving youths of mainly the Loyalist community of Belfast. Although paramilitary involvement in the most recent riots has not been confirmed, the tactic of young adults and teenagers being encouraged to commit acts of violence in behalf of paramilitary organisations is clearly not a new one.
This week several ‘paramilitary-style’ attacks have occurred, with two separate shootings in Derry only two days apart. These attacks entail the subject being shot in one or both legs often by appointment. They are a foundational tactic in paramilitaries ‘exerting control’ over communities. However we have seen communities take a stand against these paramilitaries, culminating in the image of Lyra McKee’s friends leaving red hand prints on the Saoradh headquarters buildings while Saoradh members stood arms crossed in a feeble attempt of intimidation. I have no doubts that communities will continue to stand against paramilitary efforts.
Justice for Lyra Campaign
Two years on, a Justice for Lyra campaign has been set up by Lyra McKee’s family and friends “to encourage anyone with information to come forward.” Billboards have been erected across Derry city centre in an appeal for help, with one only around the corner from the Saoradh headquarters building. The public appeal for information has come alongside buildings in Derry lit up in rainbow colours in remembrance of Lyra McKee’s work as a campaigner as well as a journalist.
On the anniversary of Lyra McKee’s death and beyond, the people of Derry will reflect on her achievements and shall continue to reject the exertion of control that paramilitaries such as the New IRA try to enforce. Her family and friends will continue their justice campaign and hope that Lyra’s message of “saying goodbye to bombs and bullets once and for all” can finally be brought to pass.