Belfast Telegraph

Lyra McKee’s friend Ann Travers castigates New IRA following ‘warped’ interview

Victims campaigner Ann Travers
Victims campaigner Ann Travers
Lyra McKee
Condemnation: Gregory Campbell

By Gillian Halliday

A close friend of Lyra McKee has branded the latest attempt by the New IRA to justify the journalist's murder and its ongoing terror campaign deplorable.

Victims' campaigner Ann Travers last night condemned the terror group - which 11 days ago fatally shot the 29-year-old writer - calling it "disgusting and insane".

She was speaking after the New IRA 'army council' gave a newspaper interview in which it openly admitted the killing of Ms McKee did not further its "cause".

It also said it accepted its gun and bomb attacks will not "defeat" the Army, and its deadly campaign will never succeed.

However, the terror group said this will not deter it, as its actions serve another purpose, it told the Sunday Times.

"They are symbolic. They are propaganda. They let the world know there is an ongoing conflict," explained a member.

Ms Travers, whose 22-year-old sister Mary was shot dead and her magistrate father Tom seriously injured in an IRA gun attack in 1984, said the killers' thinking is deeply warped - particularly as the group has acknowledged its deadly campaign is futile.

"The fact that they can say that their actions to murder are symbolic shows the measure of their absolute insanity," she said.

"It shows a lack of emotion and lack of humanity that they can take a human life like that."

The New IRA, which refused to say if it is planning to escalate its gun and bomb campaign, also said it would be "remiss of us not to capitalise on the opportunity" presented by Brexit.

"Brexit has forced the IRA to refocus and has underlined how Ireland remains partitioned," it said.

"It's put the border on the agenda again."

But Ms Travers dismissed this claim as a blatant and cynical attempt by the New IRA to exploit the current political situation.

The group's attempt to absolve itself of her friend's killing by insisting that it had not "planned" an operation in Derry's Creggan area the evening Ms McKee was shot in the head amid a street riot was pathetic, added Ms Travers.

"It was our intention to engage with the Crown forces when they started searching houses that led to the death. That poor woman got caught in the street violence," the New IRA spokesman said.

Ms Travers said the paramilitary group is deluded, as it was armed on the evening in question, ready to kill or wound.

"(Lyra's killer) had a gun. What did they think would happen? They knew that there were neighbours, children and journalists there," she insisted.

"It was nothing more than murder.

"The use of language like 'Crown forces' shows that they are in a time-warp, like they're back in the 1970s."

Ms Travers said she could only agree with the New IRA's admission that its apology to Ms McKee's family was "hollow" and nothing it could say would bring comfort to the journalist's loved ones.

"Their apology is hollow. They need to put their guns and bombs to rest and hand over Lyra's killer.

"They need to be brave and accountable, instead of the cowards that they are," she urged.

She said the New IRA's remarks were deeply hurtful to Ms McKee's family, who continue to grapple with the enormity of her loss.

"Lyra's family need to be given time to grieve. All of this will make them think: 'What's the point?' Lyra's family are very gentle, very private - no doubt these (New IRA comments) will be causing them untold distress.

"There was no reason for her death. Lyra had every right to be there that night."

Ms McKee's killing took place just months after a large car bomb exploded outside a courthouse in Derry in January, which the PSNI has also attributed to the New IRA.

The incidents have raised fears that small militant groups are exploiting a political vacuum in the province amid Brexit tensions.

However, Ms Travers said the New IRA cannot be allowed to exploit, for its own twisted purposes, the UK's decision to leave the European Union.

"They're using the threat of a hard border as an excuse. The hard border of the past was only there to stop terrorists crossing the border," she said.

"It was a completely different time and we can't allow them to hold Brexit over our heads."

Her comments were reiterated by DUP MP Gregory Campbell, who yesterday called the New IRA's attempt to justify its actions as "shameless".

Mr Campbell said the New IRA was merely seizing on the impact of Brexit to "justify their activities", branding them "sick and twisted" individuals.

"There is not and never has been any justification for terrorism. Unfortunately some have sought to 'talk up' violence as part of their attempts to thwart Brexit," he said.

The development comes just days after praise from around the world was expressed for Belfast-based priest Fr Martin Magill, who gave an impassioned plea at Ms McKee's funeral in St Anne's Cathedral for politicians to restore power-sharing.

His homily, which prompted a standing ovation from mourners, has been credited with reinvigorating the talks process, set to start next week, in a bid to reinstate devolution.

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