The New IRA militant Irish nationalist group has apologised for the killing of journalist Lyra McKee – its first acknowledgement that one of its members was involved, the Irish News newspaper reported on Tuesday (23 April).
The organisation, which opposes Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace deal, described McKee’s death as tragic and offered “full and sincere apologies” to her partner, family and friends in a statement that the Irish News said it received on Monday night.
The 29-year-old reporter was shot dead in Londonderry on Thursday as she watched Irish nationalist youths attack police following a raid. Police said McKee was hit when a gunman opened fire in the direction of officers.
The group said it had sent volunteers to the area after the raid. “We have instructed our volunteers to take the utmost care in future when engaging with the enemy, and put in place measures to help ensure this,” read the New IRA statement.
The group is one of a number of small organisations who remain active and oppose the 1998 deal, which largely ended three decades of violence in the region. It is far smaller than the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which disarmed after the peace deal.
Police on Tuesday said they had arrested a 57-year-old woman in connection with the killing. Two men, aged 18 and 19, were arrested over the killing at the weekend, but were later released.
McKee’s death, which followed a large car bomb in Londonderry in January that police also blamed on the New IRA, raised fears that small marginalised militant groups are trying to exploit political tensions caused by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
Born in Belfast just a few years before the 1998 accord was struck to end the kind of violence that took her life, McKee was remembered in an outpouring of tributes as an intelligent, talented writer who brought a human touch to difficult subjects.
“She was an inspiring thinker and journalist,” Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney wrote on Twitter.
He linked his post to video of a TED talk McKee gave in 2017 encouraging churchgoers and fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender young people to talk to one another to try and change religious teaching on the subject.
In her tweet in January, she described Londonderry as a beautiful city she had fallen in love with while “falling in love with a woman who hails from it”.
McKee wrote and spoke openly about the struggles of growing up gay in a hostile environment. A 2014 blog post – “A Letter To My 14-Year-Old Self” – received much acclaim and was subsequently turned into a short film.
By that stage McKee had already been named Sky News Young Journalist of the Year – an award she won in 2006 – and was named as one of the “30 under 30 in media” by Forbes Magazine ten years later.
She wrote for publications both in Northern Ireland and aboard, including the Independent newspaper, the Atlantic and BuzzFeed News.
A “Good Friday baby”, McKee was a journalist of courage, style and integrity, Seamus Dooley, the head of the National Union of Journalists Ireland said in a statement.
In 2018 McKee signed a two-book deal with British publisher Faber and Faber. She was writing a book on the disappearance of young people during the British province’s three decades of Protestant-Catholic violence that the 1998 deal largely ended.
In a story published by the Mosaic Science website in 2016 that was widely shared on social media on Friday, McKee explored why in Northern Ireland more people took their own lives in the first 16 years after the so-called “Troubles” ended than died during them.
“We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, destined to never witness the horrors of war but to reap the spoils of peace,” she wrote. “The spoils just never seemed to reach us.”