There have been many reactions in the wake of the tragic incident that took place on Thursday night in Derry, in which the journalist Lyra McKee lost her life. The popular activist, who was killed by a stray bullet fired by a masked man who was apparently aiming at officers of the Northern Irish police, was commemorated in many public events. The day after her death, two young men, aged 18 and 19, were detained and later released without charge by the Northern Irish police. Later, a 57-year old woman was also arrested, apparently in connection with the shooting, but the details of the allegations against her remain unknown.
After the New IRA was immediately accused of bearing responsibility for the attack, the revolutionary socialist Saoradh party, a political party believed to have close ties with the New IRA, canceled their planned parade in Derry, meant to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rebellion, out of respect for the victim. However, they did not cancel their Dublin rally on Sunday, in which a group of the party’s supporters, in paramilitary gear, marched through the streets of the capital without any incident.
On that occasion, one of the party’s national spokespersons, Dee Fennell, spoke about the “tragic” killing and said publicly that if Republican militants were responsible for McKee’s death, then the IRA would have to apologize. On Monday, speaking at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast—which houses the remains of many Republican fighters, including Bobby Sands—Fennell said that Saoradh would not disband, despite many people calling for them to do so and protests being organized in front of the party’s offices in Derry. Among these, the most symbolic was an act of protest staged by the friends of the murdered journalist, who left blood-red fingerprints on the walls of the party’s headquarters, in the presence of a number of party activists, who did not intervene.
On Tuesday morning, the confirmation of the New IRA’s claim of responsibility for the attack arrived at the offices of Irish News, as usual, using a secret codeword to verify its authenticity. According to the statement, the New IRA “offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death,” claiming that she was “tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces.” The statement blamed the police for provoking the clashes in the first place: “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.” It added that “[w]e 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 language seems to be very similar to the statement from Saoradh released immediately after McKee’s death, which further corroborates the view that the party has close ties to the New IRA—something they have always denied. The use of the unqualified “IRA” moniker provoked negative reactions from many, including the members of Sinn Fein, the left-wing party historically considered to be the political arm of the movement.
There was also a lot of criticism of the appropriation of the name from among the divided dissident groups that have broken off from the movement. The most important statement condemning it was put out by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, founded over 20 years ago by Bernadette Sands McKevitt, Bobby Sands’s sister, and which overlaps to some extent with Saoradh and shares a number of activists with the party. The 32 CSM is believed to be close to the Real IRA, while some prominent members of the latter apparently joined up with the New IRA in 2012.
In a statement posted on their Facebook page, 32 CSM accused the fact that some were “abusing” the name Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish name for the IRA that is used by the various factions opposed to the peace process pursued by Sinn Féin. Their statement reads: “in light of the recent and reckless events in Derry, in which those presuming to act in the name of Irish republicanism took the young life of journalist and rights activist Lyra McKee, our focus today is to once and for all strip bare the false credentials of those who offer nothing to the republican struggle except denigration and ignominy.”
The statement explicitly does not exclude “the right of the Irish People to use disciplined armed force against the violation of our National Sovereignty.” On the other hand, it asks “those who would send Irish youth on reckless adventures to face either death or imprisonment in a dysfunctional command structure,” to “stop immediately,” because “[t]he mantle of Irish Republicanism can only be inherited by those who have ideas to advance it.” One can certainly read this as evidence of yet another internal conflict among the republican dissidents, but also of an ongoing willingness to continue this battle that has already lasted for so many decades to the bitter end—including outside the limits of the democratic process.