Legitimate parties don’t act this way, says slain writer’s sister
A dissident republican charged with the murder of journalist Lyra McKee has been appointed to the leadership of the New IRA’s political wing Saoradh.
Pete Cavanagh was moved into the national secretary position at the anti-peace process organisation’s annual conference earlier this month.
Others on the 11-strong executive include New IRA Derry leader Thomas Mellon and hardliner Paddy Gallagher, who is charged with rioting on the night Lyra was shot dead.
The slain writer’s sister Nichola Corner slammed the moves, saying: “A legitimate political organisation would not appoint people charged with murder, or others associated with murder, to leadership positions.
“If this was a legitimate political party, it would await the outcome of the judicial process, not promote those allegedly involved at this time. My question to Saoradh is, why now?”
Lyra was gunned down in April 2019 while observing a New IRA riot in Derry’s Creggan estate. The violence was orchestrated while an MTV documentary crew was making a film about dissident republicanism. The footage they recorded has been handed to police.
The case against Cavanagh is that he is the masked figure seen in recordings accompanying a gunman to the street corner from where the shots were fired.
The 33-year-old denies involvement and claims he “stewarded the crowd”.
When he was granted bail on the murder charge in September, a prosecution lawyer told the court: “Cavanagh then walks off in the same direction as the gunman. [He] is essentially escorting the gunman to the scene on the corner and away again.”
Paddy Gallagher (29) is also on bail accused of throwing petrol bombs in the riot. Earlier this month, he was made Saoradh’s national public relations officer at its annual conference.
At the same event in Newry, Derry New IRA leader Mellon, who is on a 10-year MI5 watchlist having been jailed for possessing items useful to terrorists, was appointed the party’s national organiser.
Paying tribute to Mellon, the outgoing Saoradh chairman Brian Kenna, a former Provisional IRA prisoner, said: “He has been invaluable in terms of the logistics and organisation of our many events since we last met.”
Kenna also praised Gallagher’s “unwavering dedication”. But what he, nor any of the other speakers, did not mention was the damage inflicted on Saoradh and its military wing by double agent Dennis McFadden.
The MI5 plant was a former member of the party’s national executive and is responsible for putting a dozen of its members behind bars on terror charges.
He organised two 2020 meetings of the New IRA’s suspected ‘army council’ which were bugged by the security services.
Several high-profile dissidents were charged with directing terrorism as a result, including Saoradh’s former chairman Davy Jordan and Kevin Barry Murphy, another senior figure.
Although it was decimated by McFadden, the New IRA still retains the capacity to kill.
Since its formation in 2012, the terror gang has murdered prison officers Adrian Ismay and David Black, and shot dead Belfast civilians Kevin Kearney, Michael McGibbon, Conor McKee and Lyra McKee.
A reminder of the danger it poses came last Friday when John Paul McGrath was convicted in relation to a New IRA mortar bomb found aimed at Strabane PSNI station in September 2019.
The 30-year-old was handed a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Hamlin said: “McGrath was found guilty for his actions in relation to the prior hijacking of a delivery driver’s car.
“That vehicle was then used to convey an explosive device aimed at the nearby police station and was, without doubt, intended to injure or murder our police officers.
“This explosive device, found by a resident, was recklessly left in a public area, just metres away from houses. Families with children and elderly people were forced to leave the safety and comfort of their homes. Any one of them could have been injured or killed.”