“Lyra was a force of nature” – journalist pays tribute to a fallen colleague

The death of my friend Lyra McKee has touched Northern Ireland as few other recent deaths have. She was killed at her work, as a journalist reporting on a riot.

Lyra was a force of nature. In her life and work, she celebrated the richness and diversity of Northern Ireland’s society. She had great integrity and immense ability. At 29, she had made her mark as an investigative journalist. She was a pioneer of online journalism in Northern Ireland. She wanted her journalism to make the world a better place. She was a fearless advocate for human rights, civil liberties and LGBTi rights. There were tributes from across the political spectrum, from Republicans to Loyalists and everything in between.

One powerful piece of her work was about suicide in Northern Ireland. In the quarter century since the ceasfires of 1994, 4,500 have died by suicide. That is 1,000 more than died in 25 years of violence. She wrote: “We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, destined to never witness the horrors of war but to reap the spoils of peace. The spoils just never seemed to reach us.” Given that understanding, she would have naturally empathised with the young people out rioting, and even the young lad who shot her.

Journalism is becoming a more dangerous trade. That danger is not just in war zones. It is coming closer to Western Europe and North America. Lyra was the second journalist killed in Northern Ireland, and the third in Ireland as a whole.

Lyra was not deliberately targeted. A New IRA member, apparently a teenager, fired several shots at police from a handgun. The organisation bears responsibility for criminal irresponsiblity. While Lyra was not the target, sending out a poorly-trained teenager to fire a weapon at night when there are crowds of people milling about is a recipe for causing death.

Within hours of Lyra’s killing, about 2,000 people gathered on Friday morning last at the spot in Derry’s Creggan Estate. Politicians from all the main parties spoke.

Later that day, Derry Trades Council and the local NUJ branch organised a vigil in Derry City Centre. About 1,000 came along, despite the short notice.

On the Saturday, NUJ members and other trade unionists organised vigils in Omagh, Enniskillen, Strabane, Dungannon and Newry. Despite very short notice, there were sizeable attendances at several of the events.

Yesterday members in Dublin held a vigil. To coincide with Lyra’s funeral today there is a vigil in London at 1pm in St Bride’s Church ‘The Journalists’ Church’, in Fleet St. Members in Glasgow are hoping to hold a vigil. In Northern Ireland, Mid-Ulster Trades Council is holding a vigil in the centre of Cookstown. Members who can’t attend the funeral or any of the events are going to step out and remember Lyra round the time of the funeral in whatever way they can, under the motto ‘We Stand With Lyra’. Journalists and others are picking up on the hashtag #WeStandWithLyra.

  • Anton McCabe is a freelance journalist based in Omagh, Northern Ireland. He is a member of the NUJ’s NEC and secretary of Omagh Trades Union Council.

 

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