Journalist Lyra McKee (29) shot dead during Derry riots

Police believe New IRA responsible for unrest in Creggan area on Thursday night

Lyra McKee (29) died after being shot during riots in Derry on Thursday night.

By Freya McClements in today’s Irish Times

Politicians on both sides of the Irish 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 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 this 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 that based on that he believed a handgun had been used. Police did not return fire.

Mr Hamilton said that it had been a “cold and callous” act, which was “reckless” 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 inquiry,” 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.”

“We have seen attacks now here in the city last July, a shooting attack, [the bombing in] January and now this, so unfortunately the threat is present however the threat is not dominant,” he said.

“There is more peace in this city than violence.”

Mr Hamilton appealed for calm over the Easter weekend: “I would appeal to people who were intent on violence to draw back, I would appeal to people who have influence to use their influence to make sure that this is a peaceful weekend.”

Petrol bombs were thrown at police and there was serious rioting around a dissident republican commemoration parade in Derry last Easter Monday.

The police officer also appealed for people not to share videos of the shooting on social media.

In a Facebook post, Emmett Doyle said he witnessed the young woman being shot.

“A lot of people were standing . . . including children,” he said.

“A masked figure stopped at the bottom of the road and fired shots up towards the Land Rovers.

“We all turned and ran. I stopped beside the Land Rover nearer the top of the street and a girl beside me dropped to the ground.

“More people could have been killed tonight, including children.”

The unrest comes ahead of the Easter weekend where republicans mark the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a time when dissidents are traditionally active.

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.  My thoughts are also with the brave officers who stood in defence of their community.”

In a statement, Taoiseach [Irish Prime Minister] 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.”

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.

“Those responsible should listen to the people, they should disband immediately and end their pointless actions against the community which has tragically claimed the life of a young woman.”

British prime minister Theresa May said the killing was “shocking and truly senseless”.

“My deepest condolences go to her family, friends and colleagues. “She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage,” said Mrs May.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) condemned the “indiscriminate” killing on Friday morning. 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.”

“This killing serves as a reminder of the ongoing instability in Northern Ireland and must serve as a reminder to those in positions of political leadership to end the political deadlock,” he said.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said the killing had shocked colleagues in Northern Ireland.

“To wake up to this news on Good Friday morning is deeply disturbing,” she said. “A young, vibrant life has been destroyed in a senseless act of violence.”

Lyra McKee: ‘Brave’ reporter covered her struggle of growing up gay in Belfast

Raised in Belfast, Lyra McKee spent her early years living in an area that saw a large number of casualties during the Troubles

Lyra McKee
In 2016, Forbes Magazine named Lyra McKee one of their 30 under 30 in media. 

Sky News reports

Lyra McKee has been described as a journalist of courage, style and integrity – traits that saw her take to the streets on Thursday night to witness the unrest in Derry.

Shortly after tweeting a photo of the disturbances in Creggan, she was fatally shot by a gunman believed to be part of the New IRA, a dissident republican group.

Born and raised in Belfast, she spent her early years living on Cliftonville Road – an area of the city that saw a large number of casualties during the Troubles. As a rising star in journalism, she extensively covered the Northern Irish conflict and its legacy.

But she rose to prominence following a 2014 blog called Letter To My 14-Year-Old Self in which she spoke about the struggle of growing up gay in Belfast. It was later turned into a short film.

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