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Opinion: All gunmen must leave the stage

Journalist Lyra McKee who was shot dead in Derry as she was covering rioting in the city

THE republican paramilitary group known as the 'New IRA' has for some time been active in fomenting violence, particularly in Derry.

As part of its onslaught against the PSNI and the wider community, the New IRA also decided to bring the gun back on to the streets.

Tragically, this resulted in the death of Lyra McKee. Ms McKee was only 29 years old. It is thought the gunman was younger still.

The Good Friday Agreement was, whatever its other achievements and difficulties, supposed to have set out a future in which those raised or born after 1998 would be neither victim nor perpetrator in the way previous generations experienced in the Troubles.

That it hasn't delivered on that promise is in large part, though not exclusively, due to wider political failures.

It was both welcome and powerful, therefore, that political leaders issued a joint statement in the immediate aftermath to condemn Ms McKee's killing and also attended together a vigil in Creggan.

There is no doubt that events in Derry have given a momentum and focus to the latest round of political talks that has long been lacking.

All concerned have been unequivocal in their condemnation of Ms McKee's murder and the New IRA.

However, Sinn Féin's association with the 'old', Provisional IRA, remains a source of huge difficulty.

As reported in this newspaper, masked gunmen - apparently 'independent veteran former IRA members' - last week fired shots in west Belfast on the eve of the funeral of Peter 'Pepe' Rooney.

Senior Sinn Féin figures Gerry Kelly, Bobby Storey and Sean 'Spike' Murray were among mourners at the burial in Milltown cemetery.

Rooney is widely believed to have been the fourth member of the IRA unit sent to Gibraltar in 1998 on a bombing mission, three of whom were shot dead by the SAS.

He was also one of the IRA men who fired a volley of rifle shots over the coffin of hunger striker Joe McDonnell.

There are differences between the circumstances around Ms McKee's death and the Rooney episode - one was an attack on civilians and police, the other a purported commemoration - but both involved illegal firearms and an attempt to legitimise a paramilitary group.

Beside this is the idea that in contrast to the 'bad' IRA of today, the IRA of the past was somehow 'good' - a distinction as repellent as it is unsustainable.

Commemoration and legacy are perhaps the most vexed subjects still to be honestly tackled in our political and civic discourse.

There is, rightly, much emphasis on the role of the British army and security forces during the Troubles.

But completely removing the gun and the last tawdry vestiges of the IRA would also be an important contribution to progress.

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