The decision, late in the day, by the DUP and Sinn Féin to issue a joint statement calling for calm heads in Derry following the murder of Lyra McKee is to be welcomed – and the very least they could do.
Ms McKee, who will be buried in Belfast this Wednesday after friends and colleagues crowdfunded the cost of her funeral, was – it has been widely noted – just four years old when the IRA ceasefire was declared and eight when the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was signed in 1998.
The vicious, attention-seeking violence that claimed her life was supposed to have been a thing of the past with a modern, confident Northern Ireland largely governing itself.
Instead, it has become a twisted parody of that, presided over by successive incompetent Secretaries of State – well matched by Northern Ireland’s overstaffed civil service – whose sole raison d’etre has been to do the bidding of the DUP while it props up this equally incompetent government.
Karen Bradley, the latest in a long line of discredited Tory Northern Ireland Secretaries – at the behest of her mentor, Prime Minister Theresa May – has done nothing to attempt to end the power vacuum caused by Sinn Féin and the DUP’s inability to resume power-sharing.
The blatant disregard for Northern Ireland and the Belfast Agreement shown by Mrs May’s anti-EU, right-wing, pro-Brexit fanatics has been taken as a cue by some of the region’s own anachronistic hardliners, the so-called ‘New IRA’, to repeat behaviour we thought had been vanquished – with tragic consequences.
But the landmark Free Derry Corner has been repainted to include the stark rebuttal – “Not In Our Name – RIP Lyra”.
Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill urged people being courted by these so-called dissidents to ask themselves what kind of future they want for their children and grandchildren.
Speaking at a commemoration of the Easter Rising at a graveyard in Derry she said there are two on offer – ‘one of peace, opportunity and Irish reunification…or one of death, imprisonment which serves no cause, community or people.’
The people responsible for last week’s atrocity, she said, offer only the latter and should disband immediately.
As she so eloquently put it, this small number of self-appointed people are caught in a time warp carrying out “actions which are pointless, antipeace, anti-community and frankly, antiquated.”
And that point is key, these people are currently small and marginalised but they are casting an ever-increasing shadow as the spate of 15 ATM thefts across Ireland and the thus-far abortive letter bombs to here have shown.
Northern Ireland has not had its own government since 2017 and – it seems – as long as Mrs May’s embattled, minority Tory government needs the DUP to prop it up it will stay that way.
It is not at all helped by the fact that Sinn Féin has – to date, at least – had only its own one-size-fits-all solution of calling for a Border Poll which risks alienating many of the very people (moderate, centrist, pro-EU Unionists) for once prepared to contemplate a unified Ireland.
All of this creates the space for the ‘dissidents’ to act up, ratcheting up the human cost all the time.
But that space can be filled – the anti-social, murderous attention seekers can be displaced by the ordinary people of Northern Ireland – and their representatives – insisting on restoring a devolved, power-sharing assembly at Stormont.
They need to make their voices and actions louder than those who temporarily have disproportionate leverage over a weak, discredited government as well as those who wish to turn the clock back to the bad old days.
And while we await that, we can spare a thought for the human tragedy of a young woman who represented the changed face of Northern Ireland.