The Guardian view on Lyra McKee’s murder: she should have been the future | Editorial

The death of a young journalist at the hands of dissident republicans is a tragedy linked to the province’s ongoing political crisis

The murder of the 29-year-old Northern Irish journalist and author Lyra McKee late last night is a tragedy for those who knew her. But her shooting, during rioting in Derry, is of political as well as terrible personal significance. There could hardly be a starker warning that while the Troubles may have officially ended with the Good Friday agreement 21 years ago, the risk of further violence remains.

Ms McKee should have been part of the future. A self-described “ceasefire baby”, too young to have her own memories of the 1970s and 1980s, she brought curiosity and courage to her explorations of Northern Ireland’s history. Having grown up off a stretch of the Antrim Road in north Belfast known as the Murder Mile, she wrote about the sharp rise in suicides that came with peace and argued that trauma was part of her generation’s inheritance. But she was determined to rise above the sectarianism and narrow-mindedness of the past. Her investigation of children who vanished during the Troubles, The Lost Boys, is due to be published next year.

She wrote and spoke powerfully of the impact of the homophobia that was part of her Catholic upbringing. In an open letter to her teenage self, she described pleading with God for help when she realised she was a lesbian, and apologising when she told her mother. But far from turning her back on religion, or avoiding those who were intolerant, she believed in the value of difficult conversations, and urged others to seek out those who disagreed with them. She wanted to change religious teaching about sexuality; to help other young people.

Police blame dissident republicans. When Saoradh, a party representing the New IRA’s thinking, claimed Ms McKee was the accidental victim of a “republican volunteer” seeking to defend the community from “heavily armed crown forces”, the backlash came from across the political spectrum. DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald appeared together at a vigil while Northern Irish parties issued a highly unusual joint statement condemning the attack on “peace and democratic processes”.

Politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea now have the opportunity to address the broader political context in which grievances have festered, and violence has increased. Since the Stormont assembly collapsed in 2017, Northern Ireland’s political life has been suspended. While the immediate cause was an energy scandal, the crisis has been allowed to widen to the point where it becomes hard to see a way back to the power-sharing arrangement that is the only bridge to a peaceful future.

Blame games between Sinn Féin and the DUP predated Theresa May’s confidence-and-supply arrangement with Ms Foster’s party. But the role of the DUP in propping up her government made a difficult situation worse. Mrs May’s failure to treat the situation with the seriousness it requires throughout the Brexit process has been compounded by ministers’ shocking ignorance and incompetence: former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab’s admission that he hadn’t read the Good Friday agreement; Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley’s assertion that killings by the security services were “not crimes”.

Ms McKee’s death has resonated so widely because of her own remarkable qualities. But its timing reinforces the powerful warning it sends. The Good Friday agreement is precious, as the visit to Stormont by a US delegation led by Nancy Pelosi this week reaffirmed. But it could not, by itself, heal Northern Ireland’s divisions. Instead, it offered a way to manage them. That a young life has been cut short should remind politicians on all sides that the agreement cannot be taken for granted, and that if the urgent task is to safeguard it, the ultimate task must be to move beyond it.

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