- 29 Apr 19
In examining the social and political context of Lyra McKee’s murder, some uncomfortable truths emerge.
It was natural, understandable, inevitable, that Lyra McKee’s death in the Creggan last Thursday should spark a flurry of statements flaying the men who did it as mindless thugs out to cause mayhem and murder for no reason that any decent person could grasp. But if that were the whole truth of it, if the incident were merely “mindless”, there’d be no major problem cleansing the city of all such ugliness and, as the saying goes, “moving on”. Lyra’s life would endure in the hearts of all who knew and loved her. But her killing would not have indicated any deep or pressing political problem, would have had no ideological implication. To examine the context in which Lyra was slain by reference to history and political ideas is to risk elevating the motives of the perpetrators. But there’s history and politics in it. Whoever fired the bullet which ripped the life out of Lyra will have believed that he was acting in a good cause and in right noble succession. He won’t have come up with this twisted perspective on his own. It’s what he will relentlessly have been invited to believe, and not only by his elders in the New IRA. It wasn’t written in the stars that this mortal sin against humanity should happen. But it was written on the walls.
There is scarcely a gable around these parts without some injunction to see the struggle through or expression of homage to the heroes who’d kept the flame of freedom afire through all our grey, beleaguered yesterdays. The members of the New IRA and its political wing Saoradh may be muted at the moment. But they will – if they talk to you at all – tell you plainly what they are at.
Saoradh’s office in Derry is in a former bookies’ shop at the corner of Chamberlain Street and Eden Place. I pass it almost every day. It’s on my walking route into and back from the city centre. The building is squat, grey and nondescript. The gable on the Eden Place side carries a huge mural of a man in a balaclava toting a rocket-launcher, and the slogan “Unfinished Revolution”. The depiction is somewhat more aggressive than most others, but wouldn’t be entirely out of place if relocated a hundred yards to Rossville Street and the “Bogside Gallery” of portraits of our recent past, local children killed by the British army, soldiers kicking doors in, gaunt hunger strikers gazing reproachfully out. Groups of tourists amble around, cameras clicking. Bizarre as it might seem, Rossville Street has become a tourist attraction. In the glorious sunshine of the afternoon of the day Lyra met her death it was thronged with smiles from a dozen countries, all cheerfully oblivious to what might lurk behind the façades.
There’s usually a couple of Saoradh members hanging around outside the Chamberlain Street office. I sometimes stop and have a word. In that setting, they are a genial enough bunch. But they don’t reckon they need a mandate to wage a war for Irish freedom. After all, none of their predecessor IRAs felt need of a mandate, and they now appear to have been granted a general absolution. They are presented on the walls of the streets we walk on the way to work or to school, if not explicitly for emulation, certainly for admiration. Their likenesses are there to be looked up to.
The months are measured out by commemoration meetings and parades, prayer gatherings for the repose of the souls of those who willingly made the ultimate sacrifice, or, like Lyra, were sacrificed by others on the altar of freedom. Regular reminders of past suffering accepted in the name of the cause which an impressionable person might believe still beckons. If youngers are being groomed for war, it isn’t only the bosses of the New IRA doing the grooming. The actions of the New IRA are futile, cruel and stupid, but their republicanism is lethally pure. For them, the definitive verdict on those who stop short of the goal of separating all of Ireland from perfidious England was set out more than a century ago: “The man who, in return for the promise of a thing which is not merely less than Separation, but which denies Separation and makes the Union perpetual, the man who, in return for this declares peace between Ireland and England… is guilty of so immense a crime against the Irish nation, that one can only say of him that it were better for the man (as it were certainly better for his country) that he had not been born.” That was Patrick Pearse, first signatory of the Proclamation which was solemnly read from Easter Commemoration platforms all over Ireland in the days following Lyra’s death.
Of course, we are not meant to take that sort of stuff seriously or literally these days. But some do, most angrily and enthusiastically young men who can otherwise be found standing around corners adorned by huge murals, fists dug deep into pockets, giving out about fuckers who have made comfortable lives from their involvement in the struggle and now proclaim their successors epitomes of evil.