Officials in Derry, Northern Ireland, have confirmed that a journalist was shot and killed in crossfire during a riot on Thursday evening. Lyra McKee, an editor for Mediagazer who’d written for BuzzFeed News, the Atlantic, and Mosaic Science, had arrived at the scene of a police raid in Derry’s Creggan neighborhood, where authorities were carrying out searches for explosives and firearms. Video appears to show locals throwing Molotov cocktails at police vehicles; according to the New York Times, McKee had been standing next to a police Land Rover when a gunman shot her dead. She was 29 years old.
McKee’s killing invokes the darkest moments in the Troubles, a violent conflict that divided Northern Ireland between nationalists, who are mostly Catholic and support a united Irish republic, and loyalists, who are mostly Protestant and want to remain subjects of the United Kingdom. The Good Friday Agreement — signed 21 years ago this month — ostensibly ended the conflict. But some groups do not accept the agreement, and one such group is likely responsible for McKee’s death.
Police have attributed McKee’s killing to members of the New IRA, which formed in 2012 in what the Guardian characterizes as a merger of dissident republican groups. Authorities “believe it has several hundred active supporters, a mix of ex-Provisional IRA members and new, young recruits, including some born after the 1998 Good Friday agreement,” according to the Guardian. McKee’s killing also coincides with a recent uptick in violence in Northern Ireland. Since 2013, “punishment” attacks carried out by members of republican and loyalist militias in retaliation for incidents during the Troubles have increased by around 60 percent. Members of the New IRA took responsibility for a January car bombing in Derry, and for five package bombs that had been sent to addresses in London and Glasgow in March. There were no casualties in those incidents. In 2018, Derry was also the scene of violent protests sparked by a July 12 parade by members of the Orange Order, who are Protestants. The parades commemorate the Battle of the Boyne, when the Protestant William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II; during the Troubles, Protestant groups marched through Catholic neighborhoods to intimidate and antagonize residents.
Turmoil in Northern Ireland may only increase as the United Kingdom stumbles over itself in its approach to Brexit. The European Union had guaranteed an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as the Atlantic reported in 2018. If the U.K. leaves the E.U. without a deal, or strikes a deal that does not keep the border open, they’ll violate the Good Friday Agreement. Theresa May’s Conservative government is also propped up by a shaky coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party, a loyalist, Protestant party in Northern Ireland, which contributes to local tensions.
McKee herself covered this territory with a brilliant and incisive sensibility. She grew up in a Catholic neighborhood of Belfast, the Times reports, and wrote movingly about her experiences as a gay woman and a member of Northern Ireland’s post–cease-fire generation. A gifted investigative journalist, McKee focused her work on the aftermath of the Troubles. Her second book, The Lost Boys, is scheduled to publish next year; it examined the fates of young men and boys who went missing during the Troubles.
“The Ceasefire Babies was what they called us,” she wrote of a childhood friend’s suicide attempts. “Those too young to remember the worst of the terror because we were either in nappies or just out of them when the Provisional IRA ceasefire was called. I was four, Jonny was three. We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, destined to never witness the horrors of war but to reap the spoils of peace. The spoils just never seemed to reach us.”