The ‘New IRA’ has admitted it was behind the gun attack on the PSNI that led to the death of journalist Lyra McKee during a riot in Derry last week.
In a statement on Tuesday, it offered sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee.
As the riot intensified on Holy Thursday night in the Creggan area, the 29-year-old north Belfast woman was inches away from a PSNI armoured vehicle when she was struck by one of a volley of shots fired at it.
The New IRA accused the Crown forces of provoking the riot by mounting an operation into the Creggan.
A short statement, which was signed T O’Neill, read: “On Thursday night following an incursion on the Creggan by heavily armed British crown forces which provoked rioting, the IRA deployed our Volunteers to engage. In the course of attacking the enemy Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces.
“We have instructed our Volunteers to take the utmost care in future when engaging the enemy, and put in place measures to help ensure this. The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death.”
Their acceptance of responsibility for the tragic incident came despite questions about the actions of the PSNI during the riot, the movements of its armoured Landrovers and the deployment of its own masked gunmen.
The apology came as the organisation came under pressure from all sides to issue one, including from Saoradh, the political party closest to it.
The call came at an Easter Commemoration in Dublin, where a large colour party of Saoradh members (pictured) marched in military-style clothing as part of the parade. The display was heavily criticised by the Dublin government, who suggested the commemoration should be banned. Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the parade as being “beneath contempt” and “an insult to the Irish people”.
Speaking at the commemoration, Saoradh’s north Belfast representative Dee Fennell called on the New IRA to apologise.
“Lyra McKee’s family, friends and partner are suffering an incredible loss,” he said.
“They have lost someone they loved in the most tragic of circumstances.
“It is a loss that many of you here will have experienced yourselves and I know my own family have suffered the killing of a loved one.
“While no words can or will alleviate the sense of loss I believe as republicans we should acknowledge when there is hurt or loss of life of civilians.
“If an IRA Volunteer fired shots that accidentally killed Lyra McKee then the IRA should publicly admit responsibility for that and apologise. For no other reason than it is the right thing to do.”
Earlier, Mr Fennell said that by engaging in armed struggle an organisation has a “duty to act responsibly”.
He added that Saoradh will “never view armed resistance as illegitimate” and that his party is unapologetic abut this.
The senior Saoradh member also spoke about Brexit. “Britain’s decision to leave the EU has focused minds on the border she imposed almost 100 years ago,” he said.
“However, this focus has been on the type of border we must suffer. Saoradh need to articulate that it is any border that the Irish people reject and it is this that will continue to be resisted.”
Several hundred members and supporters of Saoradh took part in the a commmemoration in Belfast on Easter Monday, which came as a similar annual event in Derry was cancelled.
Chairman Brian Kenna, who also called for an apology for the death of Ms McKee, told journalists the PSNI’s raids had been intended to disrupt their Derry commemoration, for which permission had not been sought.
“The responsibility for what happened lies with the PSNI for attempting to trample the nationalist community in Creggan,” he said.
“There had been rioting in the area the previous three nights. The police were driving in the area antagonising young people and drawing them out into the streets,” he added.
Mr Kenna said the raids could have taken place in the morning when there would not have been trouble. He said that he did not believe “for one second” that the New IRA intended to kill McKee. “I would tend to believe that the IRA believed they were attempting to confront an incursion by crown forces,” he said.
Asked was it not inappropriate to abandon its Easter commemorations in the aftermath of the tragedy, he said: “The Free State government in Dublin had a commemoration at the GPO on Easter Sunday to commemorate the 1916 Rising. We are republicans and we have every right to commemorate the men and women of 1916.”
Mr Kenna, who is a former political prisoner, said that in “every generation of the Irish struggle you will have a reaction to the armed occupation of our country”.
“This happens in every generation of the Irish struggle. It won’t change until partition is removed and the occupier, the armed British forces, leaves our country,” he added.