This wasn’t the way it was supposed to have been. When Nancy Pelosi flew into London, Belfast and Derry, the focus was to be on the border and the danger that the Brexiteers posed to a seamless border and the peace. Instead, the media spotlight swung away and focused on the death of a young journalist.
There have been many condemnations of the killing of Lyra McKee, particularly by politicians and those in authority. Condemnation has always struck me as a particularly useless flag to fly. Who in their right minds would be other than sickened by the death of someone so young and innocent? You might as well ask “Do you condemn torture?” We know the answer and it gets us nowhere.
There are a number of reactions which would help put an end to the violence and killing that were so visible on Thursday night in Derry.
One might be to end poverty in the area where it occurred. A moment’s thought tells us that the Troubles were largely confined, in cities and towns, to the more impoverished areas. The IRA and the UVF drew few of their membership from Malone Road or the North Down Gold Coast. George Bernard Shaw said that you defeat a revolutionary when you give him an annual salary that leaves him financially comfortable. Will Derry’s Creggan be swamped in grants and investment? Of course not.
Another possibility might be to persuade the community in which the New IRA operate to reject them. This might seem an odd suggestion, given the apparently universal condemnation that’s been coming from all sides. But Mao claimed that a revolutionary swims in the water of his people; if that water of mainly passive support dried up, operating would become next to impossible. Will all sympathy for the New IRA dry up because of Lyra McKee’s death? I don’t think so.
Further repression by the forces of law and order? Almost certainly counter-productive.
Perhaps the answer lies in asking the question “Why do the New IRA exist?” We know the answer: because they believe the old IRA – the IRA of the Troubles – failed to achieve its objective of creating a united, independent Ireland. They believe that only through violence will Britain be forced to withdraw from Ireland. Peaceful and political means, they believe, are largely a distraction.
But we know from recent polls and from events such as that in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast some months ago that there is a growing appetite for a border poll. Clearly the obstacle to a poll saying Yes to a united Ireland is that a majority might say No. Besides which, blundering into a premature poll would be disastrous, as the Brexit shambles has shown. People need to know what it is they are voting for or against.
The death of Lyra McKee should be one more reason why bodies need to be set up, constituting all those with a stake in life on this island, to discuss what kind of new Ireland we might want, a new Ireland that would accommodate all: unionist, nationalist, republican and none of the above.
When the commendable steps by Niall Murphy and others are followed by the creation of open and real forums, supported by the British, Irish and, yes, US governments, where the framework of an agreed Ireland can be debated and drawn up – it’s then that a border poll will make sense.
It’s also then that the New IRA will lose its reason for existence.