‘Not in Our Name. RIP Lyra’ – new graffiti in Derry signals change
In Creggan dissident slogans were repainted in protest against Lyra McKee’s murder
In the days since the murder of Lyra McKee, much has been written on Derry’s walls.
Black, spray-painted lettering appeared on Free Derry Corner – the symbol of the city – proclaiming “Not in Our Name. RIP Lyra”.
In Creggan, dissident slogans were repainted, their billboards torn down and anti-dissident graffiti erected in Central Drive.
Outside Junior McDaid House – an office used by Saoradh and other dissident groups – McKee’s friends daubed red handprints on the building.
“That is a change,” said Kevin Campbell, a community worker and Sinn Féin councillor in Creggan. “Nobody would ever have touched their graffiti [before]. I’m not sure who’s behind this, maybe it’s young boys, but it shows they’re not afraid of them.”
The dissident republican group, the New IRA, has been blamed for killing the 29-year-old journalist, who was shot as she watched a riot in the Creggan on Thursday.
As local people, politicians and civic and religious leaders gathered in Creggan for a rally less than 24 hours after McKee’s death, the word “watershed” was repeated again and again; so too was the name of another victim of the Troubles.
“This could be another Ranger Best moment,” said Pat McArt, former editor of the Derry Journal.
A 19-year-old soldier from Creggan, Ranger William Best was abducted and shot by the Official IRA (OIRA) in May 1972 while home on leave, in an act that is still remembered with revulsion in Derry. Two hundred women from Creggan and the Bogside marched on the OIRA headquarters in protest.
“After that, the Official IRA were finished in Derry,” said McArt.
It is no coincidence, said Campbell, that dissidents seem to have gone to ground since Thursday.
“I know a lot of these people to see, and I haven’t seen one of them in the last few days. Whether it’s shame or whatever, I don’t know, but they have yet to surface to show their faces in this community.”
Instead, others have been present, not least DUP leader Arlene Foster, who attended Friday’s peace rally and was applauded when she admitted it was her first time in Creggan.
The presence of Foster and her party colleague, East Derry MP Gregory Campbell, in the staunchly nationalist Creggan would previously have been unthinkable; amid the press of the crowd, her private words of condolence to McKee’s partner, Sara Canning, went almost unheard.
Martin McConnellogue, co-chair of Unison’s LGBT committee in the North, was standing behind them.
“It was quite genuine, Arlene Foster seemed really upset over Sara’s loss,” he said. “She was just the same as she would have been if it had been a man standing there as Lyra’s partner, and given that the DUP are anti-gay marriage, I thought that was something.
“Even the words that Arlene Foster used, about a gay couple to her partner with a rainbow flag behind her; to me that was significant.”
Another moment of significance was the presence in the crowd of Police Service of Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin. On the streets of Derry, PSNI members wear body armour but on Friday Martin stood in his shirt and tie.
“Nobody batted an eyelid,” said Campbell.
The senior investigating officer in the case, Det Supt Jason Murphy has spoken of a “sea change” in attitudes towards the police.
He said his officers had been on the ground in Creggan on Friday and had “identified a palpable change in community sentiment” particularly towards them.
As Derry awoke on Good Friday to the news of McKee’s murder, many made reference to the peace process, and the Belfast Agreement, signed on Good Friday 21 years before.
Others cited 1998’s other landmark, the Omagh bomb, in which the Real IRA killed 29 people and unborn twins. The Real IRA declared a ceasefire shortly afterwards, but in the years since, there have been more dissident groups, more victims, more vigils.
“We have been here before,” said McArt, “but what this will do is isolate them further. I don’t think it’s an end, you’re always going to get that hard core, but this has done them a lot of damage.
“Nowadays, if a dissident was running and the cops were after them, I think a lot of people would just shut the door. These things are incremental, and I think what’s happening here is another strip being taken away from their latent support.”
Peter Sheridan agrees. A former assistant chief constable, he is now chief executive of all-island peace charity Co-operation Ireland.
“Outrage happens, and you expect that, and it dissipates over time, so the question is how do you capture the energy that is there after the event and get it before the event?
“How do you harness the natural good that’s in people who are disgusted about what’s happened so it stops things like Thursday night happening?
“The pessimist in me would say we’ve been here before, but the optimist in me says each time it’s different, it’s less. Always in the aftermath you’re going to get that big outpouring of grief, but all of those have gradually over time changed mindsets and changed culture.”