The murder of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee by the New IRA while she was observing a riot in Derry last week has left Northern Ireland distraught that such violence could still occur in the post-Troubles era. An unnerving question is being asked with increasing urgency – why would anyone from the post-ceasefire generation, with no memory of the Troubles, actively seek to re-enact or return to the conflict?
The Good Friday Agreement, signed 21 years ago in 1998, heralded the birth of a new generation. McKee dubbed them the “ceasefire babies” in a 2016 article for the Atlantic.
Unlike their parents and grandparents, who knew all too well the agonised calls to family and friends after hearing media reports of atrocities, the dreaded door knocks from policemen and the sullen marches behind coffins of loved ones, the new generation were “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”, McKee described.
But despite the promise of peace, a new breed of terrorist is emerging “through the ranks”, police detective Jason Murphy, who is leading the investigation into McKee’s murder, said recently in a televised appeal.
Over the last year, concerns have grown about dissident Republicans; those who reject the ceasefires of the peace process and continue to believe a united Ireland could be brought about by violence.
Social media footage from the night of McKee’s death showed young people, in their teens and twenties, rioting. Their giddy adolescent screams are audible; the footage shows a masked man with a slender, youthful frame step forward before firing the fatal shots.
Sinéad O’Shea, a documentary maker who spent five years in Derry researching dissident Republicanism for her film A Mother Brings her Son to be Shot, says she met one boy who told her he and his friends wanted the Troubles to return.
“I think they associated the Troubles with a time of status and purpose, and they felt hopeless about now. I can easily imagine other young people wanting some short cut to a feeling of ‘power’ in that community. Most jobs seem out of reach. It is fantastical for them to aspire to fulfilling employment. Drug and alcohol addiction was rife when I was there. Suicide was a common occurrence too. Everyone and everything seemed against them.”
O’Shea adds that it’s important to distinguish between wanting the Troubles to return, and actually becoming a terrorist. [Continue reading…]