LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said a “deep air of sadness” is hanging over the city in Northern Ireland after the murder of journalist Lyra McKee.
The New IRA – which has its origins in groups that broke off from the Irish Republican Army after the Good Friday Agreement in 1997 – are considered the most likely suspects in the shooting of the 29-year-old.
McKee was shot Thursday night as police officers searched for weapons in Derry’s Creggan estate after intelligence reports said dissident republican groups had stashed them in the area ahead of a planned march through Derry on Monday to mark the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
Masked gunmen shot at the police, and McKee was hit. She died later at the hospital.
McKeown said her killing “is causing widespread shock and revulsion.”
“I have every confidence that the wider community will come together at this time to make clear our conviction that violence solves nothing,” the bishop said, adding that “destruction and aggression end up damaging the very communities that some people claim to be defending.”
Derry has long been a center of the decades-long “Troubles” in Northern Ireland and is considered one of the strongholds of the New IRA. Last summer, the city saw its worst riots since the Good Friday agreements which has mostly ended the armed conflict between predominantly-Catholic Nationalists seeking a unified Ireland and mostly-Protestant Unionists seeking to preserve Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
In his statement, McKeown condemned the new violence.
“You cannot claim to love your country and, at the same time, cause death and pain to the people who live here. All who live here deserve to be cherished equally,” the bishop said.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland, noted the murder happened almost 21 years to the day after “our historic peace accord.”
“We wake up to shocking news of pointless, violent death on the streets of Derry. Please pray for her family, friends and colleagues today who must now carry such a heavy cross of grief and pain,” he said on Twitter.
Sinn Féin, the largest Nationalist party in Northern Ireland and long seen as the political wing of the IRA, was quick to condemn the shooting.
“I unreservedly condemn those responsible for killing this young woman,” said deputy leader Michelle O’Neill. “We will remain resolute in our opposition to the pointless actions of these people who care nothing for the people of Derry. We remain united in our determination to building a better and peaceful future for all.”
The Saoradh party, which is seen as sympathetic to the New IRA, issued a statement saying McKee was “killed accidentally” and that her death was “heartbreaking.” But the party added the violence was the “inevitable reaction” to the police operation.
In the wake of the backlash caused by the violence, the planned Easter Monday march was cancelled.
The priest who gave last rites to McKee in the hospital took aim at the dissident groups that killed her.
Father Joe Gormley, who serves in the Creggan neighborhood, told BBC Radio Foyle, his parish was “stunned” and blamed outsiders for stirring up trouble.
“Our parish is full of so many good people and these people come into our area and use us to carry out such vile acts. How dare they. How dare they,” he told the radio station.
“They have done it in this Holy Week. They have done it in a way that is totally, totally anti-Gospel and literally anti-Christ,” the priest said.
“What cause in God’s name has been served by this?” Gormley added. “And I live in a community that has suffered enough from the Troubles over the years. In fact, Lyra herself, she herself knew about the effects of the Troubles – particularly in children.”
The priest said the people of his parish have seen the “terrible, terrible effects of violence” on young people, “and we have a new generation of mindless people who think that to cause a riot; to bring guns on the street to intimidate; to tell people that they’re under house arrest or that they’re going to be shot.”
“I think we all have to get over this idea that somehow asking anybody in this regard to do anything for you, in terms of sorting out some of your problems, is evil and it’s wrong,” he said. “And these people are not concerned about your problems.”
McKeown said the message of the Good Friday Agreement is killing doesn’t bring any benefit.
“That spirit of coming together against violence has brought us a long way in the last twenty years. It will continue today for we believe the original Good Friday message that love is stronger than hatred,” the bishop said.
The latest violence comes as leaders on the island have been expressing fears that Brexit could affect the peace deal, since many of the assurances of the Good Friday Agreement were guaranteed by the fact both Britain and Ireland were EU members.