Belfast Telegraph

Philip McGarry: 'Lyra's death shows if we repeat mistakes of the past we will never deal with the present'

Funeral of journalist Lyra McKee (Brian Lawless/PA)
Funeral of journalist Lyra McKee (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Philip McGarry

Lyra McKee, although only 29, had established a reputation as an extremely sophisticated journalist and writer.

In 2016, she wrote an article for the US magazine 'The Atlantic', addressing our disturbingly high suicide rate, which is much greater than during the Troubles.

This chimed with work I carried out 30 years ago, showing that the worst years for violence had the lowest suicide rates, and that suicide increased with gradual 'normalisation'.

Lyra looked at the extensive research from Israel on Holocaust survivors, and reported how their children (who themselves have an elevated suicide rate) often found their parents 'inaccessible and distant', unwilling to speak of the past, but clearly affected by it. Lyra wrote eloquently of the emerging concept of 'inter-generational transmission of trauma'.

The lesson to be drawn is that burying bad memories is counter productive. Lyra's professional curiosity led her to explore in her work a past Northern Ireland that too many want to forget, but which, for the health of our society, we must not and cannot ignore. Otherwise, she will not be the last victim.

Most people will be appalled that even before Lyra had been buried, 150 associates of the New IRA paraded last Saturday through the centre of Dublin in combat uniform and dark glasses. Sadly, only one citizen was seen to protest.

This perfectly shows the fatal ambivalence we in Ireland have about the sanctity of human life that continues to poison our society. Can you imagine 48 hours after the Christchurch mosque shootings, 150 white racists in combat fatigues parading through Auckland, or 48 hours after the Manchester arena bombing, Islamists dressed in black parading through London?

No, of course not; it is unimaginable, not because governments would ban it, but because the population would not accept it. The world, which has looked on appalled at Lyra McKee's murder and listened to all the fine words of condemnation, must firstly be bemused by and then disgusted at such a brazen endorsement of violence. It will rightly ask why an affluent democratic society is so far out of touch with the norms of the rest of Western Europe.

 

This brings home the absolute imperative to move beyond the traditional rhetoric after killings, and instead do something useful. Some commentators have referred to the New IRA as 'deluded' and 'crazy', that it is a 'monster' and even 'the Antichrist', engaging in 'senseless' activities. These terms are all misleading.

The coffin of journalist Lyra McKee is taken out of the church after her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The coffin of journalist Lyra McKee is taken out of the church after her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Theresa May pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee
Irish Prime minister Leo Varadkar (R) and Prime Minister Theresa May (C) leave St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019, after attending the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP/Getty Images)
Irish President Michael D Higgins consoles Sara Canning, partner of the murdered journalist Lyra McKee as her funeral takes place at St. Anne's Cathedral (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Funeral and service of thanksgiving for journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn(centre) and Irish President Michael D Higgins(right) pictured at and at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Mourners and friends pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast.
Mourners react as the coffin of journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18, is placed into a hearse following her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019. - Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on April 18, 2019, as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second city of the British province. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP)PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Funeral and service of thanksgiving for journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Mourners and friends pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
DUP leader Arlene Foster at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee
Mourners listen to the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee outside St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Mourners gesture as pallbearers carry the coffin of journalist Lyra McKee (29), who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18, during the funeral service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019.
The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Mourners gather outside of St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019, during the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18. - Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on April 18, 2019, as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second city of the British province. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP)PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Mourners gesture as pallbearers carry the coffin of journalist Lyra McKee (29), who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18, during the funeral service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019. - Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on April 18, 2019, as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second city of the British province. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP)PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
The coffin is carried into the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
The coffin is carried into the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
General view of the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÕs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Picture Matt Mackey / Press Eye.
Prime Minister Theresa May paying her condolences to the family of Lyra McKee
Mourners listen to the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee outside St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar , Prime Mnister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Mourners arrive for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish President Michael D Higgins pictured at he funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Prime Minister Theresa May pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast.
President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
A mourner arrives carrying a wreath for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sin Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton. The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald arrives for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Leo Varadkar arrives for the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee at St Annes Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - APRIL 24: The congregation arrive for the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee at St Annes Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Journalist and campaigner for LGBT rights, Lyra McKee, 29, was shot dead last Thursday while observing the rioting in Londonderry. Her family gave a statement in which they said her "openness and her desire to bring people together made her totally apolitical". The New IRA have admitted responsibility for her killing. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald pictured at he funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The hearse carrying the body of murdered journalist Lyra McKee arrives at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Sinn Fein leader Michelle and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Sinn Fein leader Michelle and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Simon Coveney TD at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 SDLP leader Colum Eastwood at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Mike Nesbitt pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Michelle O'Neill, Vice President of Sinn Fein arrives for the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee at St Annes Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald arrives for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Naomi Long Alliance Party Leader at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
General view of the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Mourners begin to gather for the funeral of Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

In fact, the New IRA members are not mentally ill, nor psychopaths, and their aim to kill police officers, far from being senseless, is exactly what they had hoped for. These individuals are doing what the IRA has always done, which is using physical force to pursue a political agenda.

 

My late father was a surgeon for 40 years at the Mater Hospital in Belfast. He once wryly told the medical students: "You know, a Protestant spleen with a bullet in it looks just the same as a Catholic spleen with a bullet in it." He was (equally) disgusted by the violence of the IRA/INLA and the UVF/UDA.

Two of his consultant colleagues had sons murdered by the UVF, and another a brother murdered by the IRA. Sadly he died while the violence continued. However, if alive today he would recognise the nauseating statement of Saoradh justifying the murder of Lyra McKee as being exactly the same as those issued by republicans and loyalists justifying killings throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He might even recall that in April 1981 another 29-year-old woman (Joanne Mathers) was murdered in Derry by republicans. No difference - except for 38 years.

 

The New IRA will doubtless note the cognitive dissonance of those who criticise it for doing what they had unashamedly done themselves.

If we are serious as a community about genuinely ensuring Lyra's killing is the last, then we must move beyond generalities. What could genuinely help is actually quite simple.

We must demand of every community leader, political, religious and others, that the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ulster/the Union does not justify the taking of a single human life. They must also state that just as the killings on Bloody Sunday (and almost certainly some other security force killings) were unjustified and unjustifiable, every killing by the IRA/UVF/INLA/UDA, right from the start in Malvern Street in 1966, was unjustified and unjustifiable.

It would also help if they were to desist from repeating (those who do) the dangerous formulation of 'two communities', which artificially divides us further; after all, which so-called 'community' was Lyra part of?

Lyra McKee reminded us that we can only deal with the present by making sense, in an honest way, of the past. Let us do this, in her memory, and also for the good of our and future generations.

Dr Philip McGarry is a consultant psychiatrist working in Belfast

Irish Independent

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph