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The killing of Lyra McKee

Painful irony wrapped in tragedy

20 April 2019

It is not at all difficult to understand the outpouring of grief following the killing of Lyra McKee. A young woman who was an activist in the gay rights movement and an extremely able journalist, she had a wide circle of friends devastated by her death and by the manner of it.

It's not much more difficult to see the sheer strategic and political incapacity of the Derry republicans. Outside their own ranks celebrating Easter by encouraging small bands of youth to petrol bomb and the odd bullet aimed at police is not well understood.

However there are other issues more difficult to understand. The police were rattling the Republicans cage for intelligence purposes. Were they justified in doing that?

The trade union peacenicks were out in strength, defending the Good Friday Agreement. What Good Friday Agreement?

In these scenarios, with these actors, tragedy will repeat itself again and again.

Among militaristic Republicans the presence of British forces justifies the use of force. There is no need to seek broader support. Simply a series of tactical questions around building a volunteer base and a source of military supplies. Training 101 is rioting and petrol bombs. Graduates are blooded by carrying out armed activities. It is not difficult to see why an untrained teenager waving a pistol in the dark shows reckless disregard for civilian life. This is the story of republicanism in a nutshell. Mass support is pressed into passive backing for militarism. Militarism leads to tragedy and atrocity and this leads to the collapse of support and advance by the state.

Given the republicans lack of politics, their standard response to tragedy is to tone down any political activity and go into hiding, remerging when the storm has passed.

So much for the republicans. What of the police? It should seem extraordinarily reckless to stage mass raids in the most concentrated pocket of republicanism in the North on the eve of Easter - the major event in the republican calendar. There would be no question of such raids on loyalists on the eve of the 12th parades. Why did they stage these raids?

Essentially because they can. The Republicans have a strong base in Derry. The police want to break that base and that aim is shared with Sinn Fein. Campaigns at Easter and during the bonfire period always see coordinated action between police and the local council to suppress demonstrations.

Of course, Derry republicanism would collapse instantly if Sinn Fein could persuade the agreement to deliver for nationalist youth, yet study after study shows that young workers have gained nothing in 21 years of the GFA and are facing savage and growing austerity.

Resentment is stoked by Sinn Feinís reconciliation strategy, which appears to involve endless concessions to loyalism and kowtowing to royalty. Yesterday's demonstration by Sinn Fein in Derry's Creggan saw spontaneous applause when Unionist leader Arlene Foster turned up. Yet Arlene has torpedoed the peace process, persuaded the British to return to direct rule and, that day, had called for a solid united Protestant vote for her party in the council elections to keep the Catholics at bay. Recent social media pictures have shown Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party socialising together in scenes reminiscent of the last chapter of ďAnimal FarmĒ. It has not gone down well with supporters.

Aside from the grief of friends and family,  the main political demonstrations are organised by  the trade union bureaucracy. These union demonstrations are small. They counter pose the killing to the peace process, but as explained above, the peace process has silently collapsed, not only in the form of a local assembly, but in the winding down of all the other structures by the British and the institution of direct rule. To make things worse, the union leaders accepted savage austerity and welfare cuts to try to save the local assembly. The British have parked many issues of democratic rights in the absence of a Stormont assembly,  but they have not parked austerity. The union bosses stay silent,  trapped in their deal with the devil.

At the heart of Lyra McKee's tragedy is a heart-wrenching irony. One of her best pieces of reportage, meticulously researched, gave overwhelming evidence that suicide rates among young people had climbed sharply following the signing of the GFA. The politicians and union leaders who today weep salt tears totally ignored the article, just as they offer no relief for youth facing an empty future.

Society in the North of Ireland is in decay. There is a growing sense of desperation amongst youth. Those who have sufficient money and education flee. The rest live lives of quiet desperation.  Traditional republicanism offers no way forward, but even less so do those trying to hold up the decaying system.

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