Good may come out of the evil of Lyra McKee’s killing

The sadness and anger in Derry are great and will grow

A police officer lays flowers passed to her by members of the public at the scene where journalist Lyra McKee was fatally shot in Derry. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

A police officer lays flowers passed to her by members of the public at the scene where journalist Lyra McKee was fatally shot in Derry. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

 

Martin McGuinness said they were militarily pathetic. He was responding to some of the actions of dissident republican groups who had disagreed with the decision of the Provisional IRA to leave violence behind to opt exclusively for politics.

It was around the same time in 2005 that a few of those dissidents sent a youngster into a pub to hit me over the head with a baseball bat. I was vice-chair of the new policing board at the time and the dissidents were telling me I was no longer welcome in the republican area where I had once lived and worked.

McGuinness called to my house a few weeks later to see how I was recovering and said to me that it wasn’t me they were after, it was him. I understood completely what he meant, and I agreed completely with what he was saying. He was stating that unless dissident republicanism supplanted him and his ilk with military competence coupled with enough community support, they were destined to be no more than a nuisance who would consistently fracture and become a subplot in the efforts to bring about a new and united Ireland.

Sadness and anger

Unfortunately, the subplot occasionally brings bombs and guns to the streets and two nights ago it fired live bullets down a narrow street in Creggan and killed a young journalist, Lyra McKee, who was born and reared in Belfast but who had made Derry her home. The sadness and the anger in the city is great and will grow.

It is reminiscent of the mood in the city when young soldier William Best was killed in May 1972. A young man from the area, he had joined the British army and had come home to visit his family. The Official IRA kidnapped him and shot him dead. A group of women took to the streets to protest. Those protests did not result in the immediate disbandment of the ‘stickies’ as they were known but they added to the political analysis that eventually moved the organisation into politics and away from violence.

Derry will grieve for this young journalist and will show strength and unity in deploring her death. The leaders of all the local political parties have issued a joint statement. Most of them will visit Derry in the next few days. It will be interesting to see if the leaders of the republican parties in Dáil Éireann will visit Derry and take part in the discussions that are now sure to take place. Derry could do with some political support from those parties whose ancestors knew the agony and the pain of unresolved political identity.

The city might welcome the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil to tell the dissidents in their own heartlands that the unity question is the responsibility of the elected government of Ireland and that dissidents are a hindrance and a barrier to that aspiration.

Meanwhile, the strongest and most impactful response has come from the parish priest who anointed the young journalist and spent time with her family. His sadness and anger were expressed in an interview on local radio and his insistence that it would be vile for a planned dissident parade to take place in Creggan on Easter Monday resulted in an announcement from the organisers that it had been postponed. Some will claim that this killing will be a watershed and it will bring dissident violence to an end. Those hopes have been raised before and have been dashed before.

The dissidents will put their heads down and wait for the emotional impact of this killing to pass over. They will tell each other that they have seen it happen before. But they are not sociopaths. They know the damage to their organisation that has been done. Those who, like Martin McGuinness did, regard them as militarily pathetic and lacking in much community support will be confirmed in those beliefs.

Hardliners

Those who tentatively provide support will be much more careful and unwilling to show that support, at least for a time. The hardliners who see themselves as the inheritors of the men and women of 1916 will know their support base will be further undermined. They are already aware that the Brexit debate is changing the profile and the impact of the unity debate to which they are so committed. There is a small possibility that the debate within the New IRA, who appear to have been responsible for this murder, will face the question about their relevance and their impact.

The one glimmer of hope is that there is a tradition of such questioning within militant republicanism. There have been numerous occasions in the past when the IRA faced similar political and moral dilemmas. A very famous commander of the IRA in Derry way back in the 1950s was known to preach to his very small band of followers that when it became clear that the Irish people were moving towards unity then the IRA had a moral responsibility to leave the stage or, as he put it, had not the moral right to fire another bullet.

Denis Bradley is a journalist and former a former vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board

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