Lyra McKee: Tributes paid to ‘journalist of courage, style and integrity’

President says people of Ireland ‘shocked and outraged’ at killing of 29-year-old

Several thousand people gathered in the Creggan area of Derry on Friday to remember journalist Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting in Derry on Thursday night. Video: Freya McClements

 

Ronan McGreevy

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to journalist Lyra McKee who was shot dead during riots in Derry on Thursday night.

Mr Higgins described McKee (29) as a “woman of talent and commitment, who was shot exercising her profession”. He said her death will invoke “shock, outrage and great sadness”.

McKee, an author and journalist from Belfast, died in Altnagelvin hospital after being wounded in the Creggan area, according to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

After signing a book of condolence at Belfast City Hall, opened by Lord Mayor Cllr Deirdre Hargey on Friday, the President said the people of Ireland were “shocked and outraged” at the taking of her life.

“To be taken away in such a fashion and by those who represent nobody on this island is outrageous,” he said.

“On behalf of all the people of Ireland I want to express our deepest sympathy to her partner Sara and her family and friends and all of those who will have worked with her on different campaigns.

“The loss of a journalist at any time, in any part of the world is an attack on truth itself.

“And the circumstances in which it happened, firing on police seeking to protect the peace process, cannot be condoned by anybody.”

Both the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the British prime minister Theresa May condemned the killing.

Mr Varadkar said it strengthened the Government’s determination “not to allow those who want to propagate violence, fear and hate to drag us back to the past.”

He said: “I would like to express my sincere condolences to Lyra’s family, her partner Sara and her friends. Our solidarity also goes out to the people of Derry and to the entire journalism community.”

Mrs May said: “The death of Lyra McKee in last night’s suspected terrorist incident in Londonderry is shocking and truly senseless.

“My deepest condolences go to her family, friends and colleagues. She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage.”

Martin Doyle's McKee tribute

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the killing was a reminder on the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that “the vast majority of people of this island voted overwhelmingly for peace and reconciliation and an end to violence. There can be no going back to those awful days.”

Mr Coveney said the news from Derry was “shocking and tragic. There is no justification for this tragic loss of life and I call on those intent on violence and disturbances to stop.”

Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said he was “utterly shocked” by the killing.

“ Such a reckless regard for human life is horrendous. We don’t say it enough but journalists play a vital role in society, exposing themselves to danger so we can get a true insight into events,” Mr Flanagan maintained.

“The courageous PSNI officers who risk their lives to maintain public safety deserve nothing less than wholehearted support from everyone in the community.”

Sympathies

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin extended the sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil Party to her family and friends.

“I utterly condemn the attack which initial reports suggest is the work of the so called New IRA. Those responsible must be brought to justice and I encourage anyone with information to bring it to the attention of the authorities,” he said.

“The PSNI have worked hard to engage with communities across the political divide over the last decade. To see them under attack from terrorists, hell bent on causing violent upheaval, is horrific. These people will not be allowed to undermine peace through such acts of violence.”

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley MP said those who carried out the shooting had “nothing to offer anyone in Northern Ireland”.

“Their intolerable actions are rejected by the overwhelming majority of people who want to build a peaceful and more prosperous future for everyone in Northern Ireland,” she said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster described it as “heartbreaking news and a senseless act. A family has been torn apart. Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s & 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019. No one wants to go back. My thoughts are also with the brave officers who stood in defence of their community.”

Her DUP colleague Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he had been interviewed by McKee about the murder of Unionist MP Robert Bradford in 1981.

He tweeted: “ She clearly had so much talent. Now Lyra is the murder victim, killed by those who hate peace. Whatever our differences surely we must work to restore Stormont & show them they won’t succeed.”

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “My heart goes out to the family of the young woman shot dead by so-called dissidents. This was an attack on the community, an attack on the peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement. I appeal for calm and for anyone with information to bring it to the PSNI.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described McKee as “fiercely intelligent with a sharp sense of humour and an incredible passion for the telling the story of people who were forgotten.”

He added: “Those responsible for this heinous crime need to be faced down, they need to be made to realise that their fight is not with the PSNI or with young journalists doing their job. Their fight is with all of us, the people of Ireland. And it is a fight that they will never win.”

‘Courage, style and integrity’

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) assistant general secretary Séamus Dooley described McKee as a “journalist of courage, style and integrity”.

He said: “She was a woman of great commitment and passion. I have no doubt that it was that commitment which led to her presence on the streets of the Creggan last night, observing a riot situation in the city. She had tweeted just minutes before being hit by a bullet. She had also spoken to a journalistic colleague from the riot scene.”

Mr Dooley said many people were first introduced to her when she wrote about growing up gay in Belfast . Letter To My 14-Year-Old Self was subsequently turned into a powerful short film.

“In 2016, she was named one of Forbes 30 under 30 in media in Europe, a prediction she dismissed with typical good humour,” Mr Dooley said.

He said: “After working in the Belfast Telegraph Lyra enjoyed the freedom of being a freelance journalist and was developing a growing international audience for her work. She worked hard and was noted for her determination.

“This killing serves as a reminder of the ongoing instability in Northern Ireland and must serve as a reminder to those in positions of political leadership to end the political deadlock. Our thoughts are also with the members of the PSNI, especially thought who came to Lyra’s assistance after she had been struck by a bullet.”

In March, McKee was in a list of 10 rising stars of Irish writing in advance of St Patrick’s Day by Irish Times books editor Martin Doyle.

The article noted that her debut, The Lost Boys, will be published by Faber next year and is about children who disappeared during the Troubles.

Faber’s Laura Hassan was quoted as saying at the time: “I was hooked by McKee’s singular, crisp prose and I loved the blend of investigative journalism, true crime, memoir and social history in The Lost Boys. McKee has that knack of engaging the head and the heart – the fate of these children is deeply affecting.”