19 April 2019 | Freya McClements in Derry, Fiach Kelly, Brian Hutton | The Irish Times
Politicians on both sides of the Border have condemned the killing of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee, who died after being shot during riots in Derry on Thursday night.
McKee, an author and journalist from Belfast, died in Altnagelvin hospital after being taken from the scene of the disturbances in the Creggan area by police. McKee had tweeted a picture of the scene shortly before she was killed, with the caption: “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) opened a murder inquiry and said it was treating the killing as a “terrorist incident”. Police said the New IRA is most likely responsible.
Speaking at a press conference in Derry on Friday morning, the PSNI’s assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton said police had mounted a search operation in Derry on Thursday evening.
“We believed that violent dissident republicans were planning attacks in this city and we were looking for munitions and firearms that we believe may be about to be used across the Easter weekend,” he said.
“We were in Creggan carrying out a search operation and a public order situation developed in Fanad Drive.
“This public order situation saw over 50 petrol bombs thrown at police, two cars hijacked and set on fire and then unfortunately at 11 o’clock last night a gunman appeared and fired a number of shots towards police.
“A young woman, Lyra McKee, 29 years old, was wounded she was taken away from the scene in a police Land Rover to Altnagelvin hospital but unfortunately she has died.”
He said he had seen footage of a gunman crouched and firing down the road, and based on that, he believed a handgun had been used. Police did not return fire.
Mr Hamilton said it was a “cold and callous” act, which was “reckless” and a “clearly orchestrated” attack on police.
“Bringing a firearm out and firing it down the street in a residential area where they knew lots of people were standing about is a calculated and callous act,” he said.
He said the New IRA are most likely responsible. “That informs our primary line of enquiry,” he said.
The dissident republican grouping was also believed to have been responsible for a car bomb which exploded outside the courthouse in Derry in January.
“I said in January,” said Mr Hamilton, “the threat level in Northern Ireland has been severe for a number of years. That remains extant. It is still severe.”
Mr Hamilton appealed for calm over the Easter weekend. He also asked people to be sensitive and not share videos of the shooting on social media. He asked that videos be shared with the police to help the investigation.
Junior McDaid House in Derry, which is linked to dissident republican political party Saoradh, said an annual Easter Monday commemoration had been cancelled. In a statement, Saoradh said “British Crown forces” were responsible for Thursday night’s rioting.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the murder was also a callous and brutal attack on the peace process, the people of Derry and the freedom of the press.
Responding to the statement from Saoradh, he said: “It was a statement that added offence, gross offence, to the unlawful killing. That in itself is somewhat sickening, that the group attempted a justification. There can be no justification or such an act.”
‘Full of sadness’
In a statement on Friday morning, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “The Government condemns in the strongest possible terms the fatal shooting of journalist and writer Lyra McKee in Derry.
“We are all full of sadness after last night’s events.
“We cannot allow those who want to propagate violence, fear and hate to drag us back to the past.
“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.”
Mr Varadkar later said the killing was “an act of fear”, “an act of hate”, and “an act of cowardice. “There is no place nor any justification for political violence in Ireland, or Northern Ireland today,” he said.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney on Friday morning spoke to the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, and the two will stay in contact over the weekend. Mr Coveney also received a briefing from the chief constable of the PSNI.
The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, said it was “heartbreaking news” and “a senseless act”.
“A family has been torn apart,” she said. “Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s and 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019.”
She said: “No one wants to go back.
Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said it was a “senseless loss of life”.
“I am shocked and saddened at the tragic news that a young woman has been shot dead by so-called dissidents,” she said.
“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,” she said.
British prime minister Theresa May said the killing was “shocking and truly senseless”.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) condemned the “indiscriminate” killing. NUJ assistant general secretary Séamus Dooley said Ms McKee was a “journalist of courage, style and integrity. She was a woman of great commitment and passion.”
Lyra McKee featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30
The woman shot dead during rioting in Derry last night was journalist and author Lyra McKee.
The 29-year-old tweeted a picture of the disturbances shortly before she was killed, with the caption: “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”
In 2016 she was named one of Forbes’ Magazine’s 30 under 30 in media.
She was the author of Angels with Blue Faces, a non-fiction novella about a cold case from the Troubles, and had signed a two-book deal with Faber & Faber and her book, The Lost Boys, was due for publication in 2020.