Saturday 25 May 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Lyra McKeeʼs death was murder, not 'just a tragic accident' as Saoradhʼs dinosaurs try to claim'

'That these thugs and criminals felt emboldened enough to muster 150 marchers down this nation's main thoroughfare on a weekend which marked both the Easter Rising and the Good Friday Agreement, was incredible.' Photo: Tony Gavin
'That these thugs and criminals felt emboldened enough to muster 150 marchers down this nation's main thoroughfare on a weekend which marked both the Easter Rising and the Good Friday Agreement, was incredible.' Photo: Tony Gavin
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

For people of a certain age, the last few days have provided a hellish flashback to a blood-splattered period we all thought was long behind us.

Even during the Troubles, the murder of a journalist would have stood out. But in the new Northern Ireland which has been busy trying to catch up with both the Republic and rest of Europe when it comes to social issues, it was almost beyond comprehension.

In many ways, Lyra McKee was the finest representation of that new Northern Ireland.

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Young, working class and gay, she was one of the 'Good Friday babies', part of the generation that came after the last bombs had exploded and final bullets fired. Her avowedly non-sectarian approach to important issues saw her widely recognised in life as exactly the kind of person the North needs if it is to ever escape the shackles of tribal politics.

In death, that work will now be continued in her name. But no journalist, no matter how committed to their cause, wants to become a martyr.

There is a horrible, depressing irony in the fact that this face of the younger, more confident and forward-looking Northern Ireland was shot dead by the forces of Old Northern Ireland, where grubby prejudices and squalid, age-old grudges were what passed for rational thinking.

This was, in many ways the ultimate clash of cultures. And as people in Northern Ireland know only too well, the men with the guns tend to win such clashes - in the short term anyway.

Her murder seemed to sum up everything that is still wrong with the North and, in fact, could have been an incident from any time in the last 40 years - rioters start rioting, the police intervene, and some local republican "hero" takes out a gun, skulks behind a wall and takes a life.

It was hard to imagine the aftermath of Lyra McKee's death becoming any more distressing, yet that is exactly what happened in the hours and days after she was shot in the head in Creggan.

One might have thought the cross- community fury at such a cowardly act would have at least shamed the people responsible into some sort of silence.

Instead, we got the kind of simpering platitudes for a murderous "mistake" that we have all seen far too often in the past.

The initial statements from the so-called New IRA were, even by the standards of these tinpot terrorists, a masterclass in weasel words and cowardice.

The 'volunteer' had actually been aiming for a PSNI officer standing near the journalist, we were told. As if that would somehow make it better. As if that would somehow quell the anger. As if those who were so distraught at the crime would suddenly understand the reasons why the shot was fired and would, as if by magic, begin to understand the motivations behind the shooting.

Those initial, fatuous attempts at some sort of justification seemed out of step, particularly when Saoradh, the political group which represents the latest batch of murdering terrorists, cancelled its planned march in Derry.

Whether that was out of respect for the murdered journalist or a simple realisation it would be unwelcome in a city that was still grieving is unclear. But in the wake of Saturday's march in O'Connell Street, is irrelevant.

That these thugs and criminals felt emboldened enough to muster 150 marchers down this nation's main thoroughfare on a weekend which marked both the Easter Rising and the Good Friday Agreement, was incredible. That the speakers involved then tried to lay the blame for the killing at the PSNI's door was depressingly predictable.

Speaking ahead of the march, the group's supposed leader, some buffoon called Brian Kenna, played all the old hits we had become so used to hearing whenever the terrorists killed the "wrong" person.

The whole thing was the fault of the "irresponsible PSNI, who went into a nationalist area on Thursday night and provoked a young community", according to Kenna. "She was standing within police lines and that's not her fault but I don't believe that she was targeted in any way...That wouldn't serve any republican cause; it was just a very tragic accident."

Except, of course, it wasn't "just a very tragic accident".

A "very tragic accident" involves someone being struck by an out-of-control car or having a piano fall on their head.

Firing into a crowd and hitting someone other than your intended target is not an accident. It was a deliberate act designed to kill. That the bullet killed a young journalist rather than a member of the PSNI doesn't lessen the gravity of the crime.

In other years the Saoradh march on our main street would have been little more a curiosity; a chance to have a look and a laugh at those deluded, historically illiterate dinosaurs who hide from modernity and wrap themselves in a green cloak.

That it occurred before Lyra McKee had even been buried was little short of an obscenity; a deliberate two-fingered salute to the Government, to An Garda Síochána and, most unforgivably, to the ordinary people of Dublin who were united in grief with the people of Derry and the rest of Northern Ireland.

Of course, the politicians were quick to condemn the march. So what?

Statements of condemnation are less than meaningless - they're also a admission of official impotence. Gardaí have defended their decision to allow this rabble to proceed because the alternative could have led to rioting on the street. Maybe they were right, maybe they were wrong. But they were merely exhibiting the same kind of legislative powerlessness as their political masters.

When tempers are hot it's easy to transform the disgust we all feel into a desire for new and immediate laws to prevent such marches from happening again.

That is an understandable impulse and there was something undeniably sickening about looking at a bunch of delusional losers commandeering O'Connell Street. But we should also be careful about introducing knee-jerk legislation to stop one group.

After all, history has proved such laws will be extended to prevent other, peaceful groups from exercising their democratic right to protest.

Having said that, we also know these people are enemies of the State - because they keep telling us that they are enemies of the State.

In fact, they don't even recognise the State so surely there can be some way to prevent that obscenity from occurring on our streets ever again.

McKee represented a new, forward- looking society in the North and it now seems as if a bullet fired during the Troubles had finally found its target 21 years later.

The task now is to ensure her death wasn't in vain.

Irish Independent

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