There have been appeals for calm following the tragic death of a journalist during heavy rioting in a republican area of Derry on Thursday night.
Lyra McKee died as she was observing rioters behind a burning barricade attack the PSNI police with petrol bombs, grenade-style fireworks and other missiles. Ms McKee, who was aged 29, was standing with other journalists and onlookers beside an armoured Crown Force Landrover when she was struck by a bullet fired by a masked gunman.
Fighting had been ongoing following a major search and arrest operation by PSNI vehicles in the heart of the Creggan area of the city. The rioting followed days of disturbances and bomb alerts in the run-up to Easter as the PSNI sought to suppress republican parades and displays of strength held to mark the anniversary of the 1916 Rising.
Two local youths have since been arrested in connection with the shooting.
An Easter commemoration, which had been due to take place in the city on Monday, has now been cancelled as a mark of respect to Ms McKee and her loved ones. In a statement announcing the cancellation, the republican party Saoradh extended its sympathy to her family and loved ones, but blamed a British attempt to “grab headlines and engineer confrontation with the community” for the violence which led to her death.
They said comments by PSNI Commander Mark Hamilton confirmed that there had been a plan to disrupt the Easter Rising commemoration. They said the “inevitable reaction” to such an incursion was “resistance” from the youth of Creggan.
“The blame for last night lies squarely at the feet of the British Crown Forces, who sought to grab headlines and engineered confrontation with the community,” they said.
“During this attack on the community, a Republican Volunteer attempted to defend people from the PSNI/RUC.
“Tragically a young journalist covering the events, Lyra McKee, was killed accidentally while standing behind armed Crown Force personnel and armoured vehicles. This outcome is heartbreaking and we extend our sincerest sympathy to the family, friends and loved ones of the deceased.”
The violence on Thursday night followed clashes with the PSNI in Derry on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as disturbances in other areas of the Six Counties.
The Continuity IRA said it had left a command-wire bomb in Lurgan, County Armagh on Tuesday night which it abandoned due to what it said was security force activity in the area. Two pipe bombs exploded at a house in Armagh city on Wednesday, while residents had to be evacuated from an area in Rasharkin after another two devices were thrown at a house in the area.
In south Armagh, a British Army helicopter was photographed flying about the border village of Bessbrook, which Saoradh said was an indication of the continuing British military occupation in the north of Ireland. A statement by local Saoradh National Executive member Stephen Murney said: “Saoradh’s position is clear, the British Army is not welcome in any part of Ireland, under any guise, under any circumstances. We will continue to resist all forms of British occupation whether it’s the British army or their RUC cohorts.”
But following Thursday night’s tragedy, there have been appeals for the ‘New IRA’, which is associated with Saoradh and has been accused of firing the fatal shot on Thursday night, to call a ceasefire.
Independent republican councillor, Gary Donnelly, has urged the group involved to “desist from any further attacks”.
Councillor Donnelly, who represents The Moor District Electoral Area (DEA) and was present during Thursday night’s rioting, said: “An innocent woman is dead because of a reckless act. This is wrong and my thoughts like the thoughts of this entire community are with her loved ones.
“I would plead with those behind this attack to desist from any further attacks and seriously consider the consequences of their actions.”
There was condemnation by republicans of a gun attack being attempted in the smoke-filled mayhem of Thursday night. But there was also condemnation of the PSNI, who were accused of starting the riot and then effectively using journalists and other civilians as a ‘human shield’.
Before Thursday, the working-class community of Derry’s Bogside were divided between those who reject the PSNI, and those who support or acquiesce to them. That divide is set to deepen as Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald urged people to support the PSNI and inform on the breakaway IRA groups.
“These so-called dissident groups who took her life offer nothing only hardship and suffering,” she said.
“As a society and a nation we are looking to a peaceful future. A future that has no place for violence. They do not represent the community, the people of Derry or wider opinion.
“The murder of Lyra McKee is an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on the peace process and on the Good Friday Agreement. It is well past time for these groups to go, to end their actions and let the society get on with building a peaceful future.”