Wednesday 22 May 2019

Family of journalist Lyra McKee pay tribute to 'gentle innocent soul'

Journalist Lyra McKee was the victim of a fatal shooting in Derry late at night on Easter Thursday
Journalist Lyra McKee was the victim of a fatal shooting in Derry late at night on Easter Thursday
People listen to speeches during a vigil in Dublin for murdered journalist 29 year-old Lyra McKee. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Hand delivered: Friends of Lyra McKee paint blood-red handprints on the Derry office of dissident republicans. Photo: Trevor McBride
Probe continues: Investigators at the scene of the fatal shooting on the Creggan estate Photo: Paul FAITH / AFP
United in sorrow: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald with DUP leader Arlene Foster at a vigil in Derry following the death of journalist Lyra McKee. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Sinn Fein Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill arrives at a government residence in Belfast for meeting with Tanaiste and Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
A lone protester makes a stand for Lyra McKee at the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin 20/4/2019
Mark of respect: Flowers and a candle are left at the spot where 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead. Photo: Reuters
A image of 29 year-old Lyra McKee displayed during a vigil in Dublin for the murdered journalist. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Happy couple: Lyra McKee and her partner Sara Canning

Ian Begley and Catherine Devine

The family of murdered journalist Lyra McKee have paid tribute to her, saying she was “a gentle innocent soul who wouldn’t wish ill on anyone”.

"On Thursday April 18 our beautiful Lyra was taken from us. A daughter, a sister, an aunt, a great-aunt, a partner, a niece, a cousin, and above all, a best friend and confidante to so many of us," the family said in a statement.

"A friend to all, a gentle innocent soul who wouldn't wish ill on anyone. Such a warm and innocent heart, she was the greatest listener, someone who had time for everyone.

"She was a smart, strong-minded woman who believed in passionately in inclusivity, justice and truth. Lyra spoke to and made friends with anybody and everybody, no matter what their background, those of all political views and those with none. This openness, and her desire to bring people together, made her totally apolitical."

The statement, issued through Kinnear & Co solicitors, continued: "We would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of support and love we have witnessed this past few days. It has been of immense solace that Lyra meant so much to so many.

"We ask everyone who knew Lyra to continue her message of positivity and hope, by respecting her memory with dignity and respect. We as a family know that the whole community has been touched by the events of Thursday night and that many are rightly angry.

People walk during a vigil for murdered journalist 29 year-old Lyra McKee in Dublin .Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People walk during a vigil for murdered journalist 29 year-old Lyra McKee in Dublin .Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

"However, we would ask that Lyra's life and her personal philosophy are used as an example to us all as we face this tragedy together. Lyra's answer would have been simple, the only way to overcome hatred and intolerance is with love, understanding and kindness.

"We are a private family and would ask as a family that our privacy is respected at this impossibly difficult time. We will, in time, speak to you all, but need space and time in the coming days and weeks to deal with the trauma of Lyra's sudden tragic death. Until that time, we would request that all media contact could be made via our legal representatives."

Lyra McKee (29) was fatally shot in Derry on Thursday during a riot in the Creggan area of the city.

A group calling itself the New IRA, linked to dissident republican activity, claimed responsibility for Ms McKee's death on Tuesday.

A image of 29 year-old Lyra McKee displayed during a vigil in Dublin for the murdered journalist. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A image of 29 year-old Lyra McKee displayed during a vigil in Dublin for the murdered journalist. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

This evening, hundreds of people turned out to Dublin's Garden of Remembrance for a vigil organised by a leading union to celebrate Ms McKee's life.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) organised the vigil, which saw hundreds of Ms McKee's NUJ colleagues celebrate the life of the activist, and hear music by the Dublin Gay and Lesbian choir, Gloria.

Dr Grainne Healy, co-director of the Yes Equality Campaign read Ms McKee's "Letter to my 14-year-old self".

Exerpts from Ms McKee's many other works were read aloud as crowds stood in silence with Pride flags and left flowers and candles around pictures of Ms McKee.

The vigil was concluded by a minute of applause.

Secretary of the Irish NUJ, Séamus Dooley told Independent.ie that out of the €60,000 raised from its members’ GoFundMe page, a bursary will be set up that reflects the life of the 29-year-old from Belfast. The union will also use part of the funds to cover the expense of Ms McKee’s funeral. 

“The GoFundMe page has raised an astonishing €60,000 already and I’m sure it will keep on growing,” he said. 

“That will meet the funeral costs and will also fund a bursary of some type that reflects the diverse interests and personality of Lyra.”

Mr Dooley also hit out at the march that hard-line republican group Saoradh held in Dublin on Saturday. 

“The people who marched through the city on Saturday don’t represent anyone,” he said. 

“We represent the voice of workers, both north and south. As far as I’m concerned, the people of Derry have spoken for the people of Ireland, and it’s the people of Derry who we need to listen to. 

“I think the message from this is that we have to make sure there are no more killings,” he said. 

The NUJ announced that it will be holding vigils Belfast, London and Glasgow tomorrow, the day of Ms McKee's funeral.

An NUJ statement read: "Lyra's murder on Thursday night is a devastating blow to her partner and family, and to her many friends and colleagues throughout the NUJ. We keep in our thoughts Lyra's partner Sara, her mother Joan, sisters Nichola, Mary, Joan and her brothers Gary and David.

"The union is encouraging every NUJ member to take part in a symbolic action of solidarity."

Earlier today, the New IRA admitted responsibility for the murder of Ms McKee.

In a statement given to The Irish News using a recognised code word, the group offered "full and sincere apologies" to her family and friends.

The New IRA is an amalgam of armed groups opposed to the peace process and it recently claimed responsibility for parcel bombs sent to London and Glasgow in March.

Police believe the violence was orchestrated in response to an earlier search by officers aimed at averting imminent trouble associated with this week's anniversary of the Easter Rising.

The statement said: "On Thursday night following an incursion on the Creggan by heavily armed British crown forces which provoked rioting, the IRA deployed our volunteers to engage.

"We have instructed our volunteers to take the utmost care in future when engaging the enemy, and put in place measures to help ensure this.

"In the course of attacking the enemy Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces.

"The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death."

The New IRA is the biggest of the dissident republican groups operating in Northern Ireland.

It has been linked with four murders, including Pc Ronan Kerr, who was killed by an under-car bomb in Omagh in 2011.

The group is also linked to the deaths of prison officers David Black, who was shot as he drove to work at Maghaberry Prison in 2012, and Adrian Ismay, who died in 2016 after a bomb exploded under his van outside his home in east Belfast.

The New IRA is believed to have been formed between 2011 and 2012 following the merger of a number of smaller groups, including the Real IRA - the group behind the 1998 Omagh bomb.

It is strongest in Derry, north and west Belfast, Strabane in Co Derry, Lurgan in Co Armagh, and pockets of Tyrone.

This year the group was responsible for a car bomb outside the courthouse in Bishop Street, Derry.

The explosives-laden car was left on the city centre street on a Saturday night in January, and scores of people, including a group of teenagers, had walked past before it detonated.

The New IRA also claimed a number package bombs posted to targets in London and Glasgow in March.

A 57-year-old woman was arrested in connection with the murder this morning.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said the woman is being held under the Terrorism Act.

"Major Investigation Team detectives have arrested a 57-year-old woman under the Terrorism Act in connection with the murder of Lyra McKee in Creggan in Derry," a PSNI spokesperson said.

"She has been taken to Musgrave Serious Crime Suite."

On Sunday, two teenagers aged 18 and 19 arrested in connection with the young journalist's death were released without charge.

Meanwhile, MTV insists there is "no evidence" any media presence in Derry "contributed or impacted" the night of rioting which culminated in the murder of Lyra McKee.

The broadcaster made the statement in the wake of reports youths in the nationalist Creggan estate had orchestrated the rioting for the cameras, knowing MTV was filming with former 'Top of the Pops' presenter Reggie Yates.

Yates has been filming a documentary series with MTV on the issues young people face globally in 'Reggie Yates vs The World'. A promo describes the presenter as "immersing himself in extreme situations to gain new perspective on each situation".

Yates and his crew were filming in Creggan last Thursday when youths started hurling petrol bombs at PSNI officers before the fatal shooting of journalist Ms McKee.

A spokeswoman for MTV told the Irish Independent: "As stated by the PSNI, there is no evidence of any sort to show that the presence of media on the ground contributed or impacted the situation on the Creggan estate the night that Lyra McKee was tragically shot and killed.

"Crowds had already assembled following a police search in the area and, upon hearing about the search, a production company filming a documentary for MTV made their way to the area, as did multiple other news crews who were also present on the scene. MTV is not a line of enquiry in police investigations."

'The Guardian' reported that a community organiser in Derry claimed members of the New IRA and its political wing Saoradh were playing to the cameras.

MTV travelled to Derry with Flicker Productions, producers of the show, to investigate social tensions after the Brexit vote and ongoing impasse.

Calls have been made to restore power-sharing in the North in the wake of Ms McKee's murder.

Colum Eastwood, leader of the SDLP, tweeted: "I have written to all party leaders across the North and the two governments to ask for the commencement of immediate political talks to restore power-sharing. We need a government, this cannot go on. Enough is enough."

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