Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Foster's healing moment at rally for Lyra has the potential to melt permafrost in Executive


Arlene Foster addressing the rally in Creggan after the death of Lyra McKee
Arlene Foster addressing the rally in Creggan after the death of Lyra McKee
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

The murder of journalist Lyra McKee (29) was a reckless act of violence by the New IRA. It was not a mindless act of violence, as some have described it. Rather, it was a mindful act of terror, deliberately calculated and designed to cause maximum injury and damage to peace and stability within our society.

Their intended target was a policeman. Their overall desire was to kill or injure policemen. The success and legitimacy of the PSNI is regarded as an affront to their blinkered, ultra-nationalist thinking.

What they achieved was the tragic death of a promising young journalist, who was present observing the disturbances in Derry during the riot that followed a police raid looking for guns and ammunition hidden by the New IRA in the Creggan estate.

Lyra's death could easily have been the death of any resident, be they man, woman, or child present that evening on the streets of the Creggan.

The New IRA's recklessness and incompetence was breathtaking to say the least, but it also raises a number of very serious questions about the endemic violence that is embedded in our society.

Some have naively suggested that the almost universal condemnation of this violent act might represent a watershed in our history, in that the use of violence for a political end will be abandoned by Irish republicans. Unfortunately, we have seen this false dawn many times before.

There are those who forlornly hold that the use of violence is a proper and legitimate political act for attainment of Irish reunification and the withdrawal of the British presence in Ireland.

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Many times during the Troubles the Provisional IRA was challenged to give up violence after similar incidents. It did not. In fact, it ignored and rejected such pleas and, aided and abetted by Sinn Fein, continued to intensify its campaign of violence.

It was only when SDLP leader John Hume (after a protracted and much criticised process of engagement with its leadership) persuaded it to give up its euphemistically termed "armed struggle" and to pursue its political ends through democratic means that the IRA campaign was brought to a close.

Even after it had entered into a permanent ceasefire the republican movement clung to its ideological insistence that the campaign was a legitimate exercise in political violence.

Even today Sinn Fein refuses to criticise the campaign of the IRA and proudly commemorates the exploits of its volunteers.

In short, it has created a living museum in which it exhibits the artefacts of the IRA campaign, supporting and glorifying the so-called armed struggle.

This Easter has seen that repeated with its public commemorations. Its commitment to peaceful politics is, therefore, a tactical not an ideological change.

It is into this culture of political justification and tolerance of violence that we witness a contemporary justification of similar acts of violence by the New IRA.

The condemnation by Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald at the Derry rally in honour of Lyra McKee is, therefore, regarded by that stream of fanatical, unbending republicanism as being hollow and contradictory.

Given the past history of the IRA, it treats Sinn Fein condemnation of its current violence as a hypocritical joke.

So, the arguments against violence will have little or no impact on the entrenched, bunker-like politics of an isolated, defensive republican sect like the New IRA.

When an attack like the one in Derry goes horribly and tragically wrong, there are natural regrets by these dissident activists.

But these regrets are ultimately dismissed in the overall scheme of things as collateral damage, consequent to the continued presence of the British in Ireland.

Their justification is if the British presence in Ireland did not continue, these unfortunate things would not happen.

Unfortunately, the culture of political violence has been so ingrained and legitimised for so many generations that it is practically impossible to remove it from wider republican thinking.

Surprisingly, out of all this tragedy, Arlene Forster has risen to the occasion by showing solidarity with other political leaders in attending a public rally in Derry to honour the slain journalist.

Speaking at the rally, she urged Catholics and Protestants to come together.

She powerfully said to the people of Creggan: "Your pain is my pain." It was a healing moment. It has the potential to melt the permafrost of the past two wasted years.

Given the profoundly serious implications of Lyra's murder, this could be a game-changer.

Clearly now there is an opportunity for everyone to throw away their "red lines" and get on with the job of creating a political partnership that will honour the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and the new generation of hopeful young people that Lyra truly represented.

Belfast Telegraph


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