Michael D. Higgins and figures across the political spectrum have paid their tributes to journalist Lyra McKee after she was murdered during riots in the Creggan area of Derry last night.
McKee, who had written for The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News among other publications, was an editor with Mediagazer, a California-based trade publication covering the media industry. Named by Forbes’ magazine as one of its “30 under 30” notable media figures, she was seen as a rising star.
The 29-year-old was killed Thursday night amid riots and a police operation in Northern Ireland in what police are calling a “terrorist incident.”
Her work included examining the fallout of decades of violence in Northern Ireland, and she was described by literary figures as a rising star of investigative journalism in an announcement of a publishing deal last year.
“The people of Ireland will have heard with both shock, outrage and great sadness of the killing of the young journalist Lyra McKee in Derry last evening – a woman of talent and commitment, who was shot exercising her profession,” President Michael D. Higgins said.
“Sabina and I send our deepest sympathies to her family and friends and to all those who knew her and worked with her.”
The National Union of Journalists has condemned the killing of McKee. NUJ assistant general secretary Séamus Dooley described McKee as a “journalist of courage, style and integrity”.
Mr Dooley said many people were first introduced to her when she wrote about growing up gay in Belfast. Letter To My 14-Year-Old Self was subsequently turned into a powerful short film.
“In 2016, she was named one of Forbes 30 under 30 in media in Europe, a prediction she dismissed with typical good humour,” Mr Dooley said.
“After working in the Belfast Telegraph Lyra enjoyed the freedom of being a freelance journalist and was developing a growing international audience for her work. She worked hard and was noted for her determination.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, paid her tributes: “If you read nothing else today, read this letter Lyra McKee wrote to her 14-year-old self. It is heartbreaking but life-affirming…and leaves me wishing I’d had the chance to meet this brave young woman.”
Theresa May, the prime minister, has described McKee’s death as “shocking and truly senseless”
“She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage,” she added.
McKee is the author of a book, Angels With Blue Faces, about the 1981 murder of Rev. Robert Bradford, a member of Parliament from Belfast. Last year, she signed a two-book deal with publishing house Faber & Faber.
One of those books investigates the disappearances of young men in Belfast in the late 1960s and 1970s. The book, titled The Lost Boys, was scheduled to come out next year.
“McKee has that knack of engaging the head and the heart — the fate of these children is deeply affecting and we’re engaged too with her argument that these missing children tell us something of a whole lost generation, that of the ‘cease-fire babies,’” Laura Hassan, editorial director at Faber, said last year.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was “heartbreaking news and a senseless act”. While Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the murder was an attack on “the peace process on an attack on the Good Friday Agreement”.
Police in Northern Ireland believe the so-called New IRA – dissident Irish republicans who reject the Good Friday peace agreement – was behind the killing.
Fearing some violence over the Easter weekend, which marks the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, police raided houses searching for weapons and ammunition in the Creggan area of Derry.
Mark Hamilton, PSNI assistant chief constable, said 50 petrol bombs were thrown and two cars hijacked during the rioting.
“We believe this to be a terrorist act. We believe it’s been carried out by violent dissident republicans,” Hamilton said. “Our assessment at this time would be that the New IRA is the most likely to be behind this and that forms our primary line of inquiry.”
Northern Ireland’s party leaders later took the rare step of issuing a joint statement calling for calm.
Signed by Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Féin), Arlene Foster (DUP), Robin Swann (UUP), Colum Eastwood (SDLP), Naomi Long (Alliance) and Clare Bailey (Green Party) it says:
“We want to express our condemnation in the strongest terms possible at the murder of journalist Lyra McKee.
“The murder of Lyra McKee is first and foremost a devastating loss for her grieving partner, family and friends, and our thoughts are with them at this awful time.
“Lyra’s murder was also an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on the peace and democratic processes.
“It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere.
“We are united in rejecting those responsible for this heinous crime.
“They have no support in the community, must be brought to justice and should disband immediately.
“We reiterate our support for the PSNI, who while carrying out their duties were also the target of last night’s attack. We call on anyone with any information to bring that forward to the police and assist their inquiries.
“This is a time for calm heads.”