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‘Shocking Attack’ in Northern Ireland

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‘Shocking Attack’ in Northern Ireland That Killed Journalist the Latest Incident of Escalating Violence

A number of stressors, chief among them the political instability that comes from the U.K.’s ongoing Brexit struggles, may be to blame for the recent uptick in unrest.

Fires burn in Derry, Northern Ireland, on Thursday night. The violence claimed the life of journalist Lyra McKee.

Fires burn in Derry, Northern Ireland, on Thursday night. The violence claimed the life of journalist Lyra McKee. (Photo: screenshot)

A journalist whose work focused on Northern Ireland’s troubled past was killedThursday night in the latest in a series of militant escalations that are increasing in frequency as the United Kingdom and Ireland reckon with Brexit.

Clashes broke out Thursday in the Northern Ireland city of Derry as police forces attempted to raid suspected militant homes.

Embedded video

Leona O’Neill@LeonaONeill1

Serious rioting now in Creggan, dozens of petrol bombs have been thrown at police vehicles in Fanad Drive

Lyra McKee was shot, allegedly by dissidents, during the violence. McKee died shortly thereafter.

The raid came in advance of Easter Sunday, which has significance for Northern Irish republicans who want to reunify Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland and see the continued division of the island as a leftover from centuries of brutal British colonial rule.

Reaction to McKee’s death from leaders on both sides of the Irish Sea stressed the importance of her work and the senselessness of the shooting.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister), issued a statement condemning the violence in the country to the north.

“We are all full of sadness after last night’s events,” said Varadkar. “We cannot allow those who want to propagate violence, fear, and hate to drag us back to the past.”

Leo Varadkar

@LeoVaradkar

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.

“My thoughts are with the family and loved ones of Lyra McKee, senselessly killed while doing her job as a journalist,” said Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. “This shocking attack is a reminder of the vital importance of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland peace process.”

Jeremy Corbyn

@jeremycorbyn

My thoughts are with the family and loved ones of Lyra McKee, senselessly killed while doing her job as a journalist.

This shocking attack is a reminder of the vital importance of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland peace process.

Michelle O’Neill, the deputy leader of the Irish party Sinn Féin, said she was “shocked and saddened” by the attack and hoped it would not reopen old wounds.

“The murder of this young woman is a human tragedy for her family,” said O’Neill, “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.”

Embedded video

Sinn Féin

@sinnfeinireland

Sinn Féin Deputy leader @moneillsf has said her thoughts are with the family of 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead by so-called dissidents in Creggan last night.

Thursday’s shooting is the third violent incident involving dissidents in four months. In January republican militants set off a car bomb outside a Derry courthouse. Two months later, another group of pro-unification dissidents sent at least four, and possibly five, bombs to locations across Britain.

That’s a major escalation over recent years; Northern Ireland has been largely quiet since 2007. The country, which is one of four in the U.K., has gone through a generally peaceful spell of time since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which began to put an end to “The Troubles”—the Irish and Northern Irish name for the sectarian war that raged along the Northern Irish border for decades.

A number of stressors, chief among them the political instability that comes from the U.K.’s ongoing Brexit struggles, may be to blame for the recent increase in violence.

The U.K., which includes Northern Ireland, has continually put off leaving the E.U. through Brexit. The terms of the departure, which could result in a militarized border with Ireland and subsequent reigniting of “The Troubles,” are still up in the air.

As Jochen Bittner put it in The New York Times:

In London, Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to respect the peace accord and avoid a hard border in Ireland. But neither she nor anyone else has yet explained how not to control a border that separates a European Union country from a nonunion country. Mrs. May’s Brexit plan leaves open the possibility of at least customs checks along the border; without a plan in place, a hard border will almost certainly be needed.

That’s led to a situation where nobody knows what will happen, or when. The deadline for departure was recently extended to October 31 after May couldn’t convince Parliament to sign off on her deal.

The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson Sorkin laid out the situation in a recent essay on the effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland:

This is the paradox and the tragedy: Brexit fundamentally conflicts with the Good Friday Agreement, but the U.K. government is in a state of denial about that conflict. It insists that it is committed both to Brexit and to the peace accord: Brexiteers claim that they can maintain a “frictionless” open border with the Republic of Ireland after Brexit—in the same place that the newly hardened border with the E.U. will be.

Relations between the two countries are strained due to Brexit, but, as one unnamed U.K. official toldPolitico, there aren’t a lot of options for either country—so they’ll have to make do.

“You can’t do without the relationship,” said the U.K. official of relations between Ireland and the U.K. “It will survive because it has to. The ties are too strong.”

Whatever happens, today the city of Derry, the countries of Northern Ireland and Ireland, and writers across the world are all mourning McKee.

Her supporters in the journalism world shared some of their favorite pieces McKee wrote on “The Troubles” and growing up in Northern Ireland.

Norah Casey

@NorahCasey

Devastating to hear that courageous journalist Lyra McKee ⁦@mediagazer⁩ was killed in a terrorist incident in Derry last night. Her writing (shared here) shone a light on the impact of violence and death in Northern Ireland. Condolences to her family

Rory Peck Trust

@rorypecktrust

This piece by Lyra McKee, about the rocketing rates of suicide among her own generation of “Ceasefire Babies” in shows what an exceptionally talented journalist she was and why her killing is such a tragic waste. @TheAtlantic https://bit.ly/2IAt28n

Lyra McKee

And at an emotional ceremony honoring the writer’s life just hours after her death, McKee’s partner Sara Canning delivered a message of peace.

“Lyra’s death must not be in vain,” said Canning.

Embedded video

Damien Edgar@damien_edgar7

Incredible courage as Lyra’s partner Sarah pays tribute to the ‘love of her life’

 

 

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The Latest Victims in a Dark Story of How Northern Ireland Deals with Its Past

In August two Belfast journalists were arrested in dawn raids involving up to 100 police officers for exposing state protection of the perpetrators of a notorious sectarian massacre. This Thursday they will speak at a special screening of their documentary in defence of press freedom, writes Barry McCaffrey

***

We didn’t know it at the time, but at 7am on August 31, my colleague Trevor Birney and I were both about to feel the full angry retribution of a state who had not taken kindly to our documentary No Stone Unturned.

Released in 2017, the film had revealed evidence that loyalist gunmen, who massacred six unarmed men as they sat in a quiet little village pub watching football in June 1994, had been protected from prosecution by police.

Why arrest journalists?

This wasn’t Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan or South America — it was sleepy, suburban Belfast.

For Birney’s eight-year-old daughter Freya it should have been her first day back at school.

She should have been telling her friends all about her summer adventures.

Instead she was left shaking and sobbing as armed police took part in co-ordinated dawn raids on both our homes and Birney’s film and television company offices.

We were both forced to undress and wash in front of armed police before being arrested and hauled off in front of families and neighbours who could only have been imagining what heinous “crimes” we must have committed.

Laptops, telephones, documents and materials that had clearly nothing to do with the documentary were being scooped up and taken away without any questions of relevance.

Freya’s pink mobile telephone was one of the items seized by police. Another daughter had homework on a pen drive seized. All supposed evidence in this alleged “crime.” Three months on, nothing has been returned.

Meanwhile at our offices, more police officers were going through every desk and computer, removing note books belonging to our colleagues and sucking every piece of data from our main server.

Police technicians fed on the main computer for a full 12 hours before they removed every scintilla of information, regardless of the fact that the vast majority of the data had no relevance to what they were supposedly searching for.

Thousands of hours of interviews and notes relating to investigations which had nothing to do with No Stone Unturned were seized despite the protests of our colleagues.

These materials involve highly sensitive and confidential documents relating to investigations all across the world.

Only a tiny percentage of it relates to No Stone Unturned.

Before we’d even been finger-printed and had our mugshots taken, police had released a press statement claiming that they were investigating a complaint from the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland (PONI) that documents had been stolen from PONI offices in Belfast.

The statement said the documents were covered by the Official Secrets Act.

The only problem is that the Police Ombudsman never made a complaint — and has now said so publicly.

What is this all about and why do we now find ourselves looking at potential prison sentences? You may well ask!

No Stone Unturned (2017)

We both worked with the Oscar-winning documentarianAlex Gibney on No Stone Unturned. It told the story of the 1994 massacre of six Catholic men at a pub in the village of Loughinisland, deep in the heart of rural County Down.

The men were watching Ireland beating Italy in the World Cup on a battered television in the bar when a gunman armed with an assault rifle burst in and opened fire.

No-one had ever been charged with the killings and the Police Ombudsman in Belfast, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded in a 2016 report that police had colluded with the loyalist killers.

In 2011, a document into the Loughinisland murder investigation had been leaked to us. It was a draft report into the massacre. It named the chief suspects and outlined significant failings in the murder investigation.

Once No Stone Unturned premiered in London in October 2017, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) apparently became concerned that the document, and the highly damaging information it contained, had found its way into the public domain.

They were so concerned, they launched a fresh investigation — just not into the massacre and the unsolved deaths of six innocent men.

Instead, the PSNI called in Durham Constabulary to examine how the documents came to be in the film. The relatives of the murdered men were horrified.

On the day of our arrests, Durham Police told the press that the arrests were the result of a complaint from the Police Ombudsman.

Maguire’s report into Loughinisland and his damning conclusions had played a pivotal role in our documentary.

The Police Ombudsman’s office had been set up after the Good Friday Agreement to investigate complaints relating to police officers.

It wasn’t designed to investigate the so-called dirty war, but in Northern Ireland’s complicated world of politics and policing that’s what a huge amount of its resources has been dedicated to do.

PONI continues to deal with a huge number of complaints from relatives believing police colluded with loyalist and republican terrorists.

Once he’d seen No Stone Unturned, Maguire had alerted police that our film named four suspects. His office has no ability to take an assessment of any increased risk to the suspects, so by telling police he was advising the force best placed to decide.

Critically, he didn’t make any complaint about the documents we used in the film.

So why did Durham Constabulary say they were called in on the back of a complaint?

We don’t know the answer because the PSNI won’t comment on the case, ironically citing our arrests as the reason they’re unable to explain what has been going on.

Durham Police have told journalists that their investigation had “a definite and clear starting point.” Whatever that start point is, Maguire insists it wasn’t a complaint from him.

On the day of our arrests we were taken to a high-security Belfast police station and held for 14 hours in cells normally set aside for terror suspects.

We were kept apart, spending countless hours in separate cells with the only human interaction being when we were taken out to be questioned throughout the day.

At no time during that questioning were the names of the victims ever mentioned — Barney Green (87), Dan McCreanor (59), Adrian Rogan (34), Patsy O’Hare (35), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Eamon Byrne (39).

We didn’t know it at the time, but the Loughinisland families, whose case we were supposed to be highlighting, were instead holding a vigil for us at the site of the massacre.

Unwittingly, we had become the latest victims in a very dark story of how Northern Ireland chooses to deal with its past.

We were released on police bail shortly before 9pm that night. Three months on we’re still living under those same police bail conditions.

We have to ask police permission any time we want to leave the jurisdiction, even for family birthdays in the Republic of Ireland. We were ordered to hand ourselves in for further police questioning on November 30.

The support we’ve received from our journalistic colleagues in Belfast, Dublin and abroad has been immense. The NUJ has led the way from the moment we were arrested — campaigning and raising awareness of our case in the UK, Ireland and across the world.

We believe that the police actions are an act of intimidation designed to send a chill down the spines of any other journalists seeking to unearth the truth about Northern Ireland’s dark and dirty past.

We believe that the PSNI and Durham are trying to distract from the police failures to not only bring to justice the killers responsible for the deaths of six innocent men but the high-level cover-up that has gone on for over 24 years.

In Belfast, they’re coming after the journalists, but as one of our colleagues has said: they cannot arrest the truth.

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