Addressing the poverty which served as the backdrop to her death would be a fitting tribute to Lyra McKee

Filling political vacuums, more talks at Stormont and calls for security crack-downs are all well and good but the most fitting tribute to the late Lyra McKee would be finally dealing with the underlying causes of her death, suggests Dolan O’Hagan.

“All our young people need a life that gives them an aspiration for the future.”- Fr Martin Magill at Lyra McKee’s funeral

IT is now two weeks since journalist and writer Lyra McKee was murdered. Her life ended on a residential street in Derry’s Creggan estate by a stray bullet intended for police officers.

The circumstances of her tragic death prompted a public outpouring of grief and anger that resonated across the globe.

14 days on and as the headlines recede the challenge now is to try and keep alight the hope, verbalised eloquently and passionately by many who knew her, that her death would make some sort of lasting difference.

A hope that her needless death would leave a real impression on the hearts and minds of not only those masked men and women who found themselves on the street of Creggan on that fateful night but also on all those in wider society, north and south, who have it in their remit to address the underlying causes of her death.

For that hope to stay alive and not flicker to a slow extinguishment - as has so often happened in the aftermath of other wasted lives and atrocities in the north - the debate and discourse must now move away from the usual condemnatory political point scoring towards a real and honest assessment of why what happened on that night, happened.

The late Lyra McKee
The late Lyra McKee

In the discourse that followed Lyra’s death honest attempts have been made to do just that.

Commentators have pointed, rightly, to the political vacuum that exists in the North and how this has allowed ‘dissident’ republicanism to gain a foothold among disenfranchised communities.

Others have also pointed to the unaddressed and underlying age old ethnic, religious and political motivations behind the shot that ultimately killed her.

This is considered and worthwhile analysis but as we reflect on the underlying themes of the journalism Lyra McKee was able write in her brief life perhaps it is time to refocus on the voices that have been missing from large swathes of this commentary and analysis to date.

Rioting that took place in the Creggan estate on the night Lyra McKee was shot dead
Rioting that took place in the Creggan estate on the night Lyra McKee was shot dead

The voices of the decent people in the Creggan community, and the voices of hundreds of thousands of others just like them, north and south, who are battling with the various consequences of socio-economic disadvantage in their communities.

Communities which are often unheard in the corridors of power and who are plagued by those in their midst who under any flag of convenience, be it political, religious or ethnic, will pray on this disadvantage to win support, usually from the young and impressionable, for their activity.

The Creggan and the city of Derry is no different in that regard and perhaps to achieve a better understanding of the challenge that exists in finally addressing the issues which ultimately led to Lyra’s death we should relocate our focus from the politicised and largely sectarian merry go round of the North to 30 miles south of the border and the town of Drogheda.

In the days that followed Lyra’s death a young girl walking in the town’s Hardmans Gardens estate came just inches from being hit by a stray bullet during a drive by shooting.

The shooting was the latest incident in an ongoing feud between rival gangs in the town which has now - after many years - hit the national headlines.

The scene of  a shooting incident in Drogheda in which a young girl narrowly escaped being shot
The scene of a shooting incident in Drogheda in which a young girl narrowly escaped being shot

If that young girl had been hit in the head and her life extinguished forever, as Lyra’s was, then Ireland, north and south, would have been trying to comprehend the needless deaths of two innocents by gun crime in as many weeks.

Thankfully we are not but who, with conviction, can say it - or far worse - is not something we will have to contend with soon.

Thankfully that young girl’s near miss has prompted a national debate on what is going on in Drogheda. This debate has inevitably been dominated by renewed and fully understandable calls for a greater gardai presence and tough action to take the feuding gangs off the street.

They are demands which have been and continue to be heard in communities in towns and cities across the country.

It is surely not staggeringly insightful at this stage to conclude from our own recent history that in treating the symptoms in this way we do nothing to treat the underlying causes.

Is it not time we finally cut through the political, economic and ideological vagaries and accept as a nation that working class communities up and down the country are suffering badly with many feeling isolated and left behind.

Is it not time we accepted that in this vacuum inter generational parasites have continued to breed and are creating a wider cancer that is holding to ransom those who just want to get on with their lives as productive members of our society.

Having agreed this and in tribute to Lyra - and perhaps that was why she was in Creggan that night - can we acknowledge that the scalpel with which this cancer will be removed is not and will not be one wielded only by masked and armed police.

It needs to be a scalpel wielded also by well supported teachers in schools, by motivated community activists working in state-of-the-art community facilities and by parents, coaches and volunteers who are largely ignored and under appreciated as they keep families together, sports clubs going and community clubs and services above water throughout our country.

Emerging from all this will ultimately be educated, empowered and engaged adults who - with the continued support of a political and business class who acknowledge no one should be left behind if they make an effort to contribute - will ultimately rid us of those who do not think twice of dealing in death to achieve their deluded political causes and / or lust for money.

More talk at Stormont will always be welcome. A crack down on crime, tougher prison sentences and more police on the streets are never a bad thing.

But only when we recognise and treat the underlying socio-economic disadvantage and resultant disenfranchisement which acted as the backdrop to her and many other deaths across this island will we, as a society, be paying real tribute to Lyra McKee and what she stood for.

Dolan O’Hagan is digital editor of the Irish Examiner. He grew up in Derry City and also worked as a journalist in Drogheda from 1999 - 2003.

More on this topic

Dissidents near where Lyra McKee was shot ‘forced some police to leave’

Book written by journalist Lyra McKee to go on pre-sale

Man arrested by detectives investigating murder of Lyra McKee released

Man arrested by detectives investigating murder of Lyra McKee

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