Leona O'Neill: Lyra McKee's death shows we are letting our peace slip through our fingers

Lyra McKee's murder by is a stark reminder that, to borrow Lyra's words, the shadow of the gunman has not left us. We have so much to lose if we do not act now to ensure that her death wasn't in vain, writes Leona O'Neill

Children examine tributes left at the scene where Lyra McKee was murdered by dissident republicans in the Creggan estate on Thursday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Leona O'Neill

OUR community is in shock over the events of last Thursday and a dark cloud hangs over Derry. A vibrant young woman, a promising journalist, a much loved daughter, an adored partner, a big-hearted friend was slain on the streets of my city by men who stepped out of the shadows and fired a weapon in hate.

I was there. I heard the shots. I saw her laying on the ground. I heard the haunting screaming of those who loved her in my ears – and still hear it – when they discovered how badly injured she was. I called the ambulance. I saw her friends lift her into the police Land Rover. I stood in disbelief as the lights and sirens of the police vehicle, which rushed her through a burning barricade to hospital, faded.

I stood in utter disbelief alongside people with blood on their hands and on their clothes as we all tried to process what had just happened.

Life changed in that instant, lives were broken in a heartbeat. Her partner lost the love of her life, her friends a trusted and adored confidante and cheerleader, her family a beloved source of light and love.

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Lyra McKee: Just because we’re not at war any more doesn’t mean the shadow of the gunman has left the room

It wasn’t fair. She did not deserve to die like that, not that night, not that way. She deserved to life a long and happy life, campaigning, writing, talking, loving, laughing, changing mindsets and doing good things. She deserved to die an old woman in her bed, happy in the knowledge that she did everything she wanted to do, helped as many people as she could, changed her world and maybe even, if given half the chance, the actual world. Because that, by all accounts, was the type of person Lyra McKee was.

The people rioting on the night Lyra was shot were young themselves. They were born after the Good Friday Agreement into peace. They know nothing of the brutality and barbarity of our Troubles and how we are still suffering from its aftermath even today. Yet they want to drag us back to that place, to bring violence back on to our streets, to make murder commonplace again.

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This is not us. This is not who we should be. We have fought for our hard-earned peace, too hard and for too long to gift the next generation the horrors that we are still scarred by.

We are letting our peace slip through our fingers.

Our politicians have let our progress on the path to normality stall and in the abyss that this void has created, malicious groups have been allowed to thrive and grow. These groups are leading a new generation on to a dangerous path that could destroy the bright future we were promised and we promised to our own children.

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Lyra herself, in an article wrote: “With the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, my generation, the children and grandchildren of the civil rights protesters were told we would be the first to enjoy peace in decades. But just because we’re not at war any more doesn’t mean the shadow of the gunman has left the room.”

These words are haunting. It is time the gunmen took his shadow and left the Northern Ireland stage forever.

I was talking to a friend of Lyra’s at the place where she died. A makeshift memorial had been erected and people had designed plaques and framed photos on the road where she lost her life. Her friend had been laying flowers. She told me that Lyra was named after a constellation of stars, one of the brightest in the northern hemisphere.

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We need to get it together here in Northern Ireland before it’s too late and we are handing our kids a bleak and brutal future. We have so much to lose.

In the dark days and months ahead, Lyra will light our way out of this darkness. Her death will not have been in vain.

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