29-year-old Lyra McKee, a ‘rising star’ journalist from Belfast, has died after being fatally shot during the violent riots in Derry/Londonderry last night. Lyra became what is believed to be the first journalist killed in the UK in the line of duty since Martin O’Hagan was shot in Lurgan, County Armagh, in 2001.
An eyewitness revealed that a gunman fired indiscriminately into a crowd. The police are treating the events as a terrorist incident. Mark Hamilton, the police force’s assistant chief constable, said a murder investigation had been launched.
“We believe this to be a terrorist act. We believe it has been carried out by violent dissident republicans,” he added. “Our assessment at this time is that the New IRA are most likely to be the ones behind this.”
The New IRA is a small group of republicans who reject the 1998 Good Friday agreement that marked the Irish Republican Army’s embrace of a political solution to the Troubles, which has claimed more than 3,700 lives, Lyra being the latest victim. The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, condemned Lyra’s killing and said: “We cannot allow those who want to propagate violence, fear and hate to drag us back to the past.”
Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, said: “Those responsible for last night’s violence have nothing to offer anyone in Northern Ireland. Their intolerable actions are rejected by the overwhelming majority of people.”
Lyra was a brave and talented journalist committed to the truth. She was not afraid to express her individuality. Her close friend Ann Travers said Lyra was a journalist “who liked to help others, to try to give answers to people and empower people”.
Lyra was building a prominent writing career: she had written for many publications, including Buzzfeed, Private Eye, the Atlantic and Mosaic Science. She worked for the California-based news site Mediagazer, a trade publication covering the media industry. She was named Sky News young journalist of the year in 2006 and Forbes Magazine named her as one of their 30 under 30 in media in Europe in 2016. She had recently signed two-book deal with the publisher Faber and Faber, with her forthcoming book The Lost Boys due out in 2020, following the publication of Angels with Blue Faces, a non-fiction novella about the cold case murder of the Rev Robert Bradford, the MP for South Belfast.
Lyra presented a TED talk at Stormont in 2017, where she discussed the 2016 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in Florida, in which 49 people were killed.
Close friends of Lyra’s have said that she, a gay woman and a gay rights advocate, was someone who “believed passionately in social and religious tolerance”.
Local politicians have expressed their shock and condolences.
Mike Nesbitt, a former UUP leader, who met Lyra while she was investigating Bradford’s death said: “Thirty-eight years later, Lyra herself is murdered. Investigative journalism is essential to democracy. Like Robert’s murder, this was an attack on democracy.”
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the killing in Derry was a “senseless loss of life”. She went on to say: ““The murder of this young woman is a human tragedy for her family, but it is also an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on our peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement. I unreservedly condemn those responsible for killing this young woman. We will remain resolute in our opposition to the pointless actions of these people who care nothing for the people of Derry.”
Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster tweeted: “Heartbreaking news. 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.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA said the murder was a “grotesque crime”.
He said: “On behalf of the SDLP, I want to extend our thoughts and prayers to Lyra McKee’s family this morning. They are experiencing the unthinkable loss of their daughter in the most heartbreaking circumstances.
“We have all lost an incredible young talent. I had the opportunity to speak with Lyra on a number of occasions as a journalist, as will politicians and leaders from all parties and communities. She had a passionate thirst for the truth and for telling the stories of people who had been forgotten or abandoned.”
He continued: “Her character and values stand in stark contrast to the cowards who fired indiscriminately at police officers in Derry last night and have murdered a young woman who had so much to contribute to shaping our society and bringing people together.
“This news, coming on Good Friday, is a dark reminder to us all that our peace is fragile and that we must protect it everyday from those who want to shatter the progress that we have made. 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.
“Today our thoughts are with Lyra’s family and friends. We should all remember her passion, humour and thirst for justice.”
Lyra’s death is a huge loss to the Northern Irish community and the world of investigative journalism. The Gown Team offer our deepest condolences to Lyra’s family and friends, and condemn the senseless violence that led to her death.
There will be a candlelit vigil in memory of Lyra tonight. 6pm, City Hall Belfast.
The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.
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