Our IRA had no more right to shoot dead 29-year-old Joanne Mathers than their IRA had to shoot dead 29-year-old Lyra McKee... Our IRA needs to tell their IRA that we failed outright on the defining republican question of expunging Britain from Ireland and that they will do the same
"But what if the monsters come?"
"Fancy." Kit looked away from the drama to stare at her sister, surprised. "We are the monsters."
Dia Reeves, Slice of Cherry
Source: The New Yorker
Despite the outcry and widespread revulsion radiating out from Derry, homicidal republicanism has probably not inflicted its last atrocity, merely its latest. Never Again tends to have an expiry date which sees again cancel out never, a banner bedecking a platform upon which the political class makes a show of standing together, only to use it to mask their incessant efforts to keep everyone else apart.
If ever it was caught in damning headlights that should have been headlines, it was through Padraig McKeon's astute and acerbic put-down: "So here are the 'leaders' of the failure in N Ireland's political dialogue standing in front of the woman who has lost her life partner as a tangible consequence of that failure. Being at the front is not the same as being a leader."
Lyra McKee, sadly, is highly unlikely to be the final victim of the malevolent militarism that remains both arrogantly indifferent and haughtily impervious to the twin concept that others have rights and that there is no right to practice homicide. Citizen rights - not on their watch, just their right to kill. Lyra was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her killers were.
A large section of dissenting republican thought, the range of which was so skilfully identified by Marisa McGlinchey as being outside the Sinn Fein loop in her informative book Unfinished Business, has come out strongly against Lyra McKee's killing and any continuation of armed actions. Much of this is the result of a pervasive suspicion about the leadership of the New IRA in Derry, not necessarily a rejection of the physical force tradition per se.
For that reason, we see the disquiet towards the death of Lyra McKee qualified by haring off in pursuit of the elixir that will unite Ireland, managing to ignore what it says on the tin - Kool-Aid. The focus here is not on ending armed violence but on avoiding civilian casualties. That singularly fails to see what almost everyone else can - there rarely is any other form of casualty. Since 1998 the vast bulk of republican-inflicted fatalities have been on innocent civilians. Incapable of waging anything resembling a guerrilla war against its supposed enemies, the bulk of its victims are nationalist civilians. Falsely posing as defenders of the community they afflict, they constitute a greater threat to the lives of Northern nationalists than armed loyalism. But that is how it seems to be these days as one set of marching men mirrors the other. The New IRA kills Lyra McKee and the UVF kills Ian Ogle.
Even if all civilian casualties could somehow be avoided, it is impossible to see what armed activities might achieve. The armed groups are long on bombast but short on competence. The criminal gang currently raiding ATMs puts them to shame in terms of an ability to mount military-style operations and get the job done. Their efficiency is so impaired that republican gun culture is regarded by virtually no one as an armed campaign. There is certainly no war, just a few incidents here and there, now and then. A rain dance will get better odds on ending the current sunny weather than armed republican actions will on securing the end of British involvement in Ireland.
It is all very well for Gerry Adams to wring his hands in a gesture of faux republican piety and assert that the killers of Lyra McKee are not the IRA. They are not his preferred IRA, but the IRA being a tradition rather than a property, they are the IRA and they draw on a logic created by all of us who were in the ranks of the Provisional IRA, including Mr Adams. We cannot use Easter to Pontius Pilate-like wash our hands of responsibility through bequeathal.
We provided the intellectual and ideological template which is the backdrop to the events on Derry on Thursday night. Our IRA had no more right to shoot dead 29-year-old Joanne Mathers than their IRA had to shoot dead 29-year-old Lyra McKee. And if we continue to persist with the pretence that the many deaths at the hands of our IRA made the limited gains of the GFA worth it, that we somehow were not frustrated in our endeavours, we merely feed into their IRA's view that we are charlatans, p***ing down their backs and telling them it is raining.
Our IRA needs to tell their IRA that we failed outright on the defining republican question of expunging Britain from Ireland and that they will do the same. Despite the political career-building and incessant dissembling of our leadership, we failed not because we chose to but because we set ourselves an impossible goal. At the heart of our armed struggle discourse was an irrepressible contradiction: in fighting for an Ireland that rejected us, we were fighting against Ireland. We had either forgotten or ignored Connolly: "Ireland without her people is nothing to me." While we did not realise it back in the day, caught up in the maelstrom of the times, doing what was done to Lyra McKee writ large, we made the wrong call in going to war in pursuit of the unwinnable. The fate of Lyra McKee, a personal friend, is not the first time I have had cause to reflect that we rose up to right a wrong and in the course of righting that wrong, we violated too many rights ourselves. We did more harm than good.
None of that relieves the leadership of the New IRA of its culpability. It alone, in the here and now, regardless of what went before, has to take full responsibility for the actions of those who fired the shots in Derry. It procured and counselled, provided access to weapons in a built-up area, and told seemingly much younger people that what they might do with those weapons was legitimate. A significant number of people were clearly milling around the PSNI vehicles. Firing wildly into their number was wanton negligence. Baleful enough as it was, Derry can only be grateful that the PSNI desisted from returning fire otherwise Lyra McKee might not have been alone in the city's morgue.
A life lost and possible life imprisonment for the young people involved: nothing positive emerged. The New IRA leadership, Saoradh's cringingly embarrassing statement notwithstanding, shamefully stands alone in the dock. It cannot claim to have been sans forewarning that the likelihood of this type of disaster was imminent, given how close the bombing of a Derry street in January came to massacring many of the city's youth. It knew and did not care. It remained prepared to work on the assumption that it has the right to kill people by mistake and not to be made accountable for it: not arrested, not jailed, not hauled in front of the Derry community without its mask to explain itself, just left free to do the same again. It is seriously mistaken if it thinks the people of Derry or further afield are going to confer on to it that power of life and death over them and their children.
Lyra McKee did not believe in dying for Ireland. She was an advocate of people living long enough to see it get better. Somebody else decided that Lyra or whoever else was standing in a fairly crowded street would have the dubious honour of being burned at the stake by those who proclaim no one is a bigger defender than them. Much like the religious zealots intent on practicing their kooky rituals on others against their expressed wishes, coercive republicanism practiced its homicidal trade on her.
One unassailable and inalienable right of every Irish citizen is to be protected from the threat to life posed by homicidal republicanism and its infernal gun culture. Repressive republicanism is not radical republicanism. Radical republicanism at its core values the sovereignty of the people, the absolute right to reject the absolutism of the gun.
The republican brotherhood have butchered our sister and are to be abjured for having done so. Ours is the mark of pain, theirs the mark of Cain.
Anthony McIntyre is a former IRA prisoner, journalist and co-founder of The Blanket, an online magazine that critically analysed the peace process. This article was first published at www.thepensivequill.com