The death of yet another journalist, a young woman cut down in the prime of her life, is of grave concern to all who seek the truth. Lyra McKee was an inspiration to all who met her. I never had the honour, but just looking at her photograph, she exudes hope and was looking for a sustainable way forward this troubled island of Ireland. I went to Lyra’s funeral and was overwhelmed with gratitude to be part of the guard of honour provided by the NUJ. I stood in solidarity on the Trade Union march on Saturday 1st May. We stand for Lyra. As the NUJ lined the street outside the Belfast City Hall, we were applauded. Thank you, Belfast, for the recognition, now let’s get to work, as Lyra’s sister said at the funeral. As an English incomer, I have been welcomed with open arms, and am still trying to understand the underlying problem of why the situation in Ireland persists and still people are being killed in the name of history. I am told that even dedicated historians cannot unravel the complexities of “why”. Some say that the perpetrators are pure evil. Is anyone pure evil? The problems of the past are being passed down to the next generation, people who were not even born during the Troubles. Young people are the key. People like Matthew Walsh, a young Christian man from Portadown, Lyra McKee and others who want to help their generation in any way they can. The two young people mentioned approach life in a totally different way, but they will both leave their mark on society. It is who they are. We need to nurture young people like them, and get to the roots of the problems in Londonderry. Give those young people hope, education, jobs, homes.
Watching the film the Private War about Marie Colvin who was killed in Syria in 2012 shows how reporting the truth can take its toll on health, both mental and physical. Yet there are journalists out there like her who are fearless, and relentless in seeking the truth and justice. It is the only way the world can change. When public services behave abominably such as with the case of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, my own ongoing case of public services in Scotland not wanting to release information they hold about me and many other examples. I was forced to leave Scotland because I was digging into the system too far. I continue to do so. I can never get stories published in the Scottish press. Only relentless investigation and good reporting can uncover corruption and eventually bring justice. We often hear “ The law is an ass”. In many cases the law is not adhered to, evidence not taken in order to suppress a case. This has to change. The legal system in Northern Ireland is falling apart with officials being economical with the truth and the legal profession under pressure. It is costly. Barry and Trevor’s trial will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, money coming from the public purse at the very time Northern Ireland may have to accept direct rule, if Stormont cannot move forward.
I believe that the role of journalists can play a big part in the negotiations for a sustained peace. We cannot leave it all to the politicians. They have their own agendas. Journalists see what is actually happening on the ground, are involved with the people. In my view, the ordinary man in the street is more likely to open up to a good journalist like Catherine Johnston than they are to a politician. The church could also play a part. Scenes such as St Anne Cathedral on the day of Lyra’s funeral showed that it can be done. Catholic and Protestant clergies standing together. Can we not replicate this in Londonderry on a regular basis?
I appeal to all journalists who have an interest in moving this beautiful troubled island forward to stand together and help the young journalists integrate into communities such as the Creggan safely. An underground war is taking place on our door step, not only in far flung places like Sri Lanka and Libya, although that country seems to be moving forward at least. Lobby in London for a better deal for Northern Ireland. We don’t have one. In my three years in Northern Ireland, and six months in Dublin in 1999, I see time and time again the people of Northern Ireland treated as second class citizens. Some people view the Irish as the “clowns of Europe”. Never underestimate an Irishman, either from the Republic or the north, eventually they will come out on top. The British government should have enlisted the charm and ingenuity of the Irish to negotiate Brexit. It would have been all over months ago. Now we will have to do it all at home for ourselves – perhaps with the church and journalists standing together and negotiating.