Partner of murdered Lyra McKee makes appeal for peace at vigil
Several thousand people gathered in the Creggan area of Derry to show solidarity
The partner of murdered journalist Lyra McKee has made an emotional appeal for peace at a vigil in Derry.
Several thousand people gathered in Fanad Drive in the nationalist Creggan area this afternoon to show their solidarity with the family and friends of the 29-year-old woman, who was shot dead by dissident republicans during rioting in the city last night.
“Lyra’s death must not be in vain,” her partner, Sara Canning, told the watching crowds.
“Our hopes and dreams, her amazing potential was snuffed out by a single barbaric act,” said a clearly emotional Ms Canning.
“This cannot stand. Lyra’s death must not be in vain because her life was a shining light in everyone else’s life.
“Her legacy will live on in the light that she’s left behind.”
The PSNI has launched a murder inquiry, and believe the dissident group the New IRA was responsible for Ms McKee’s death.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said police were carrying out searches in Creggan to look for munitions and firearms which they believe dissident republicans were planning to use in attacks in Derry over Easter.
More than 50 petrol bombs were thrown at police and two cars hijacked and set on fire. A gunman then fired at police, who did not respond to the violence and did not return fire.
Ms McKee was taken to hospital in a police Landrover, but had been fatally injured and died shortly afterwards.
Ms Canning said her partner’s “senseless murder” had left her family without a “beloved daughter, a sister, an aunt and a great aunt and has left so many friends without their confidant”.
She also said it had left many in the LGBT community without a “tireless advocate and activist”.
“It’s left me without the love of my life, the woman I was planning to grow old with.
“We are all poorer for the loss of Lyra.”
Representatives from the North’s main political parties – the DUP, UUP, SDLP, Sinn Féin and Alliance – all spoke at the rally, which was organised by community representatives. Both the Catholic and the Church of Ireland bishops also addressed the crowd.
Among those watching were local civil leaders and politicians, as well as the former Stormont Speaker, Mitchel McLaughlin, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Deputy Chief Constable, Stephen Martin.
The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, was applauded by the crowd on what she told them was her first visit to Creggan.
“I came today to stand in solidarity with all of the people who are here today.
“I want to say, your pain is my pain.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Catholic or a Protestant, or whether you identify as Irish or British, when people come out with guns to shoot people from their own community then we have to say enough is enough.”
Acknowledging the applause of the crowd, she said: “thank you for your welcome today.
“I come with my party colleagues and we come here simply to stand with you today and on this holy day of Good Friday to remember that there is an Easter Sunday as well.
“There is hope and we look forward to that hope and I ask you to cling on to it today,” she said.
The Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, took to the stage holding a rainbow flag.
“I carry this flag for Lyra,” she said. “An activist, a journalist, a child of the peace process and a woman who should not have lost her life at the age of 29.
“We stand here today to mark Lyra’s memory in the best way that we can, and that is to dedicate ourselves to peace.
“I say to those who perpetrated this gross act of violence against the people of Derry and the people of Ireland – and I say this as a republican who will proudly stand on Easter Sunday and celebrate our tradition – I say to those people that your time is over, that your time is up.”
‘Enemies of the city’
The SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, said there was a “great sadness” across Derry.
“We stand resolutely against the violence that was witnessed on these streets last night,” he said. “and I want to make something very, very clear.
“The enemies of Derry are not the police officers who put Lyra in the back of a police Landrover and drove through a burning barricade to try to save her life, the enemies of this city are the people who fired that gun.
“They need to hear very, very clearly today, your time is over.”
The leader of the Alliance Party, Naomi Long, said she had come to stand in solidarity with the people of Derry.
“We stand with you not just today in this place, but each night as you face down what is happening in this community, as you try and protect your young people and as you try to move forward together in peace.
“You have our support 24/7,” she said.
Earlier, the Deputy Chief Constable, Stephen Martin – a former chief of police in Derry – paid tribute to Lyra before attending the rally.
“This has achieved absolutely nothing other than plunging a family into grief,” he said, “and condemn the community we all love to the worst possible headlines on this Good Friday, 21 years to the day after our peace agreement was signed.”
He appealed to people not just to give any information they might have to the police, but also to talk to loved ones who might be involved in dissident republican activity and to urge them to step away from violence.
“Have those conversations in Lyra’s memory,” he said.