With permission, Mr Speaker, it is with great sadness that I wish to make a statement on the appalling murder of Lyra McKee in Londonderry on Thursday evening.
That evening the Police Service of Northern Ireland carried out searches at two locations in the Creggan area of the city, believing that dissident republicans were storing firearms and explosives in preparation for attacks. While the searches were being carried out, a crowd gathered, three vehicles were hijacked and set alight, and the police came under attack, with up to 50 petrol bombs thrown at police lines.
During the disorder, a gunman fired a number of shots in the direction of police, wounding Lyra McKee. Showing incredible bravery while still under attack, PSNI officers attended to Lyra as she was transported to hospital in a police vehicle. Tragically, neither those on the scene nor medical staff were able to save her and she died from the injuries she sustained.
I thank, once again, the police, medical staff and other emergency services for their bravery and commitment. On Saturday I had the privilege of thanking a number of them in person and of paying my respects to Lyra at the guildhall with John Boyle, the mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council. As we signed the book of condolence, he told me the touching anecdote that he was one of Lyra’s first journalism tutors.
This is, first and foremost, a personal tragedy for the family and friends of Lyra who fully expected her to come home that evening. It is a truly shocking and heartbreaking situation for them, and we can only imagine the devastating pain they must feel—something they should never have had to endure. I know the whole House will want to join me in extending our deepest sympathies to her partner Sara and her family, friends and colleagues.
Lyra was a brilliant, talented journalist and is a true loss to Northern Ireland. She was a role model to many, and she always fought to make Northern Ireland a better place. Nothing we say today can take away the pain that her family must be experiencing now, but what I can say to her family, the people of Derry and the whole of Northern Ireland is that we will continue to strive for peace in Northern Ireland. We are behind them, and we are united in rejecting those who seek to undermine peace with terror. They have no place in our society and they must be dealt with under the law. The people responsible for Thursday’s sickening attack will never win.
This is also a tragedy for the community in Creggan and for the city as a whole. I am sure we have all been struck by the profound sense of anger at this sickening and callous attack. This was a young woman with so much hope and so much to offer, unlike those who have continually shown that they have nothing to offer.
It remains the case across Northern Ireland that small numbers of dissident republican terrorists remain intent on killing, but what we have seen in the days since Lyra McKee’s death is that the communities they claim to represent and seek to control do not want them. Those communities want peace, prosperity and progress, and they want no part of the sort of mindset that leads to the death of a young woman simply doing her job.
To those responsible for this act of terrorism, we say, “We have heard your excuses and your hollow apologies. No one buys it. This was no accident. There is nothing that can justify this murderous act, and you are being called out for what you really are.” Church and community leaders have united their voices in condemnation, as have those across the political spectrum. Those voices of peace are strong, united and louder than those who peddle hate and division in a city with so much to offer.
Strong and effective policing has reduced the number of national security attacks in Northern Ireland from 40 in 2010 to just one in the whole of 2018, yet, despite this welcome reduction, vigilance in the face of this continuing threat remains essential. The current threat level in Northern Ireland from dissidents remains severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. As the PSNI investigation into Lyra’s murder continues. I urge anyone with information to pass it to the police, or anonymously to Crimestoppers, so that her killer can be brought to justice. The brave men and women of the PSNI and other security partners will always have the fullest possible support from this Government.
I have heard those in Northern Ireland calling for the political leaders now to come together, and I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming the united display from the leaders of the political parties in the Creggan estate on Friday. The Belfast agreement has formed the bedrock of peace since it was reached just over 21 years ago, and it must be upheld and defended against those who would seek to undermine it. I intend to hold discussions with party leaders later this week to see what progress can be made.
Our clear and overriding objective must be the restoration of all the political institutions established by the Belfast agreement. Northern Ireland’s politicians need to take charge, including in the vital area of tackling all forms of paramilitary activity, but today is not a day for party politics.
Lyra McKee was a young, vibrant woman who symbolised the new Northern Ireland—a modern, dynamic, outward-looking place that is open to everyone, regardless of their community background, political aspirations, race, gender or sexuality—yet, last Thursday, she was killed in the most tragic of circumstances. It should not have happened, and it cannot be in vain. All of us must take inspiration from what Lyra achieved in her life in wanting to make Northern Ireland a brighter place for everyone. Lyra once wrote of being part of the Good Friday agreement generation and of the need to reap the spoils of peace. Our lasting tribute to Lyra must be to ensure that we continue to work for peace for the whole of Northern Ireland. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of her statement. The way the House listened to her today is significant in showing that we share her words and, importantly, the meaning lying behind them.
Of course we need to condemn, and we do condemn, those who perpetrate these acts of violence. It is sad that this statement follows a statement on the atrocities in Sri Lanka. In offering our commiserations to Sara—Lyra’s partner—and Lyra’s family, it is right and proper that we remember the brightness of Lyra’s life and say that it was a life well lived. She was most certainly a child of the peace agreement, and she was a young woman who lived her life in the way she chose, campaigning for the things she believed in. We should remember that bright spark and not simply the way in which that spark left the world.
I am struck by the contradiction between Lyra and the values she stood for and the values of those who chose to take her life, because that is the starkest contrast. Who represents the modern city of Derry? Who represents the Northern Ireland of today? I think it is the Lyra McKees, not the gunmen who mowed her down.
Londonderry is a greatly changed city over the 21 years since the peace process began. It is a modern city that is unrecognisable from the city of years back. Derry has also been changed by Lyra’s murder. The wave of condemnation from people of all backgrounds has sent a stark message to the people of violence who now find themselves isolated and out of touch with the mood of the people of Derry.
I also commend the cross-party solidarity, and it is significant that the leaders of the political parties have signed a joint declaration. It was important to see Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster walk from Creggan together. It was also important to see the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), a Londonderry boy, there. That is the leadership that the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to expect in light of this tragedy.
As the Secretary of State has already said, this is a foundation on which to build a different future—a better future. She mentioned the police and the security services, and we know there is a paramilitary threat not only from dissident republicans but from loyalist paramilitaries, sometimes involving gangsterism rather than political violence. Nevertheless, that violence corrupts and pollutes the society of Northern Ireland. I ask without any great criticism, but will she review the way in which we deal with paramilitaries of all backgrounds? We certainly need to look at the numbers, but perhaps that is for another occasion.
In conclusion, the phrase “not in my name” has been used an awful lot in recent days, and this House should say that this is not in our name and it is not in the name of our common humanity. Our common humanity says that we stand together with the people of Derry and we stand together with the people of Northern Ireland. In particular, across these islands, we stand together in saying that we condemn those who perpetrated this act and we celebrate the life of Lyra McKee.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and agree with much of what he said. He sums up eloquently, in a way that is typical of him; he is a very eloquent speaker at the Dispatch Box, and that was a particularly poignant and moving contribution. He is right to say that the whole House shares in the condemnation of the acts that took place. His comment about the brightness of life of Lyra was very moving. She did represent Londonderry. She represented Northern Ireland, and she represented its future. As I mentioned in my statement, I was with the mayor of Derry and Strabane on Saturday, and he knew Lyra personally and had taught her; Councillor John Boyle said that Lyra was one of those people who wanted her name in lights—just not in the way that her name was in lights over the weekend, and that is the tragedy.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is definitely a sense on the ground that this is the end and people do not want to see this happen again. Those communities, which have been oppressed by the terrorists and the dissidents, and made to live in a way they do not want to live in those estates—they do not want to be part of that—are standing up and saying, “No, not in my name.” He is right about that. None of us can escape the symbolism of this. It was Good Friday and a woman, a journalist, an innocent was shot dead by terrorists. None of us can escape that. None of us can miss that. I also agree with him about the symbolism of the political leaders joining together on Friday in Creggan and being together. Great leadership was shown by all those political leaders; it was leadership that the people of Northern Ireland want to see, and I commend them all for what they did. We will need to talk about many things in the coming days, and I am happy to work with him on those, but at the moment, with Lyra’s funeral tomorrow, it is best that we reflect on the brilliance of the light that she shone and the future that she had that we will never see.
The Viacom channel MTV appears to have been central to this awful tragedy, through no fault of its own. What can be done to ensure that media operators that, quite legitimately, seek to create content in conflicted situations of this sort are not involved, clearly against their wishes and much to their horror, in events of this sort, where there appears to have been a failed propaganda attempt by the New IRA?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. I know that he, as a former Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, is very familiar with the situation in Londonderry and the security threat the PSNI and security forces face every day. It is quite something to think that when actions like this happen in Londonderry it is almost normal—it is just what happens. The PSNI face petrol bombs and shots being fired at them. They sit in Land Rovers and take the fire and the onslaught. Clearly, we will need to wait to see, in the days to come, what effect the camera crew being on the ground had, but this also shows that a crowd had gathered. People came out to watch what was seen as being a spectacle. That just goes to show that these spectacles can have the most deadly outcomes.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement, and I echo the comments that she and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) made. On behalf of the Scottish National party, I fully condemn this careless, cruel and cowardly murder. We send our deepest condolences to Lyra’s partner, friends and family.
Lyra McKee was simply doing her job at the time she was murdered, and it was a job she carried out with great skill. The New IRA has admitted its responsibility, saying that it was simply an “accident” and apologising to her friends and family. But sorry is nowhere near good enough. Sorry does not bring Lyra back. Sorry does not ease the suffering of her partner Sara and of her friends and family. Sorry does not alleviate the concerns of communities across Northern Ireland about a step backwards to a past they had hoped to forget. Reading the statement, we would be forgiven for thinking that the past two post-Good-Friday-agreement decades simply had not happened.
This tragedy underlines what people in Northern Ireland have been saying for years now, and there is no possible alternative conclusion: the current stalemate has been going on for too long. So I am grateful for what the Secretary of State said in her statement about talks with the parties this week. Can she confirm what form they will take? Does she have a realistic goal as to when she thinks the Executive can be back up and running by?
I want to finish with Lyra’s own words, powerful words that highlight just what her murder has robbed us of. She wrote a letter to her younger self about growing up gay in Northern Ireland, in which she said:
“You will do ‘normal’ things. You will spend time with your mum. You will go to work and pay your bills. You will go to the cinema with your best friend every week because that’s your ritual—dinner then an action movie where things explode. You will fall in love again. You will smile every day, knowing that someone loves you as much as you love them. Keep hanging on, kid. It’s worth it. I love you.”
Poignantly, she also said:
“We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, destined to never witness the horrors of war but to reap the spoils of peace. The spoils just never seemed to reach us.”
Let us ensure that she is the last to suffer.
Lyra’s words need no comment from me; they are powerful enough in their own right. The hon. Gentleman asked questions about devolution. I would be very happy to talk to him and others about next steps, but I feel that today is a day when we should think about that family who are going to bury a much-loved partner, daughter, friend. They are the ones we should be thinking about today, and perhaps we can talk about the other things after that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although any death is a tragedy, the murder of a journalist is particularly abhorrent? Is she aware that Lyra McKee’s death came on the very same day when the world press freedom index was published, which showed the UK rising by seven places? At a time when the Government are rightly championing the protection of journalists, this terrible act is a dreadful stain on our record.
My right hon. Friend and I share the honour of having served in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; it perhaps did not have the “Digital” at the time he was there, but we have both been Culture Secretaries and both of us were charged with ensuring that press freedom was respected. The work he did as Secretary of State, which I was fortunate enough to follow on from and take up the mantle of, helps us to be in the position where our status on the press freedom index is improving, but he makes a powerful point about what we have seen in Londonderry and the murder of Lyra McKee.
I join the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State in their powerful words today in this House. Everybody is shocked and horrified at what happened in Londonderry just before the weekend. It has brought a palpable sense of real grief, shock and anger across the community at how a young lady who had so much to offer, Lyra McKee, was struck down in such circumstances. We had the appalling statement by those responsible that this was some kind of accident, as though it was okay to murder police officers. These are people—journalists, police officers and others—going about their proper business on behalf of us all, and they deserve all of our thanks and gratitude. Can the Secretary of State be assured that all of the political parties and all of the community, right across the board, are united in their absolute determination that we will move Northern Ireland forward and never return to the terrible types of incidents that we have seen on such a scale before?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those comments. He rightly says that “shocked” and “horrified” absolutely sum up the feelings in Northern Ireland over the past few days. As I said in my statement, there is no apology for this—this was murder. There is no justification. There are no excuses. This was taking the life of an innocent, dynamic, bright, energetic young person, depriving her of her future and depriving her partner and her family of their loved one. There can be no excuse for that.
I join the Secretary of State in expressing my condolences to Lyra’s family and friends and to the whole community.
When the Chief Constable of the PSNI last gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, he told us how difficult it was, without there being an Assembly, for him to know month by month whether he had the funds to pay for more police officers. Given the increased paramilitary activity, will the Secretary of State assure the House that the PSNI will have whatever resources it needs to keep communities safe in Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend highlights one issue that we face in the absence of an Executive at Stormont. I have said that I am determined to see the Executive restored as soon as possible, but I also reassure my hon. Friend that the Government stand committed to making sure that the PSNI has the resources that it needs, and we have continued to make sure that that is the case.
Last Thursday, Lyra McKee was murdered as she stood on the streets of Creggan in my home city of Londonderry. The following morning, a number of us—politicians, businesspeople, police and people from the local council—gathered in the city centre to discuss a response. The word came in that people were going to gather to show solidarity and opposition to the terror that had appeared on the streets the previous night. There was a decision to take about whether people should go. Those who know the geography of the city will know that I live on and represent people on the other side of the river, but there was no other side; there was only one decision to be made, and that was to go and stand in solidarity with those who abhorred such a deadly and tragic act.
Hopefully, the wider community will unite, because this week has been a particularly poignant one. It marks 25 years since Alan Smith and John McCloy were shot dead in Garvagh in my constituency. Constable Gregory Pollock was murdered by a mortar in Londonderry—he was the final policeman to be killed before the ceasefires were called—and his grave was desecrated for several years after his murder.
Does the Secretary of State agree that not just in April but in every month we must all stand against terror and murder, from wherever it comes, by whomsoever it is carried out and wherever it has occurred or does occur, so that we can deliver a better future for our people?
Hear, hear—those were very moving words. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman because the images of him in the Creggan estate on Friday—a boy from Londonderry, as he said—standing rock solid in solidarity with all parts of the community to condemn what happened were incredibly moving and important. Those images demonstrate more powerfully than many images could just how the people of Northern Ireland do not want to go backwards and want to stand firm together against the terrorists.
Lyra McKee was not just an amazing journalist and writer, but a passionate campaigner on several issues that cannot be taken forward in the absence of an Assembly. Nobody can have failed to have been moved and to have felt hopeful at the sight of real, incredible leadership from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland in response to these events. Does the Secretary of State share my hope that this can be some kind of turning point in the political process, and that people can continue to show that leadership and resolve to move Northern Ireland forward?
I agree with my hon. Friend: we need to keep seeing leadership of the kind that was shown last Friday and over the weekend, because this is a moment when people can make a difference and do the right thing for the people of Northern Ireland, who really desperately need them to.
Does the Secretary of State agree that in the face of this horrific terrorist murder it is incredibly important that the people of Northern Ireland hear the words of the House of Commons, and that we stand with those brave people, including the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) whose moving words we just heard, with the DUP leader Arlene Foster, and with Michelle O’Neill? Their condemnation, with others, of that terrible attack at least shows that we all condemn it and stand together to do so, and that they will not win. In the end, democracy will.
I am sure that Lyra’s family and friends, and particularly her partner Sara, will get some comfort from the measured and moving words we have heard today, not only from the Front Benchers but from everyone. Does the Secretary of State agree that one thing that may well come out of this, hopefully, will be the fact that we have seen such unity throughout Northern Ireland—from all of Northern Ireland—in total condemnation this act? We should also remember that the PSNI suffers attacks of this kind regularly. If things are not changing, we will see more people die. We must be absolutely clear that this kind of terrorism has to be stamped out, and that it will be stamped out only by the unity we have seen here today going throughout Northern Ireland.
I once had the privilege of being interviewed by Lyra when she was working on a book about the late Robert Bradford, who was Member of Parliament for Belfast South. I found her to be a warm, humorous and very talented young women, and I echo the comments that have been made in sympathy with all her family and friends.
One worrying aspect of this incident was the young people present who were cheering as the gunman fired those fatal bullets that killed Lyra. We see displays of men in paramilitary uniforms who belong to this organisation, walking openly in Dublin and flaunting themselves in Milltown cemetery in Belfast. If we are not to encourage the next generation to believe that there is something right in what these people do, we must surely do something to prevent these naked displays of terror and paramilitarism in public places.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. When I visited Londonderry on Saturday, I heard people say that they want this to end, that this was not what they wanted to see, that it was not the Northern Ireland they wanted to be part of and that these people did not represent them. The tragedy is that so many of the people involved are young people who were not even born at the time that the Belfast agreement was signed. They have been groomed by evil people who have put them in a position where they have ended up murdering an innocent journalist. We cannot allow that to happen. They will have heard the unity of the House’s voice very, very loudly.
The Secretary of State said that there is nothing that can justify this act of violence, and she is right. This time it happened to be Lyra, a journalist, but it could have been a police officer or a citizen on the streets of Creggan. To support what the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) said, the key point is that these are proscribed organisations. It is an offence to wear material that promotes these organisations and it is an offence to support them. It is an offence to organise meetings and to have contact with them. There is a case for the Secretary of State, after the funeral, looking into what action can be taken on proscription and enforcement, to support the community and make sure that these people are outlawed among the community as a whole.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will consider carefully all the points he made. He will know that the Fresh Start agreement committed not only money but resources to the tackling of paramilitary activity. One of the problems is that that agreement is a responsibility of the Executive Office, which is another reason why we need to see devolution restored. [Interruption.] I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, as he shakes his head, that this needs to be tackled and dealt with. He is right that tonight we need to think about a family who are grieving, but in future we need to think about such measures.
May I add my own expression of revulsion at this most brutal and senseless act and offer my condolences and those of my party to the family of Lyra McKee and to all those who knew her?
At a moment such as this, I always think that it is important to identify some sort of positive towards which we can work. For my part, I hope that for whatever unwanted and unwantable reason that we may find ourselves here today, everybody now in this House and throughout the rest of Great Britain—I use the term Great Britain advisedly—understands that the peace in Northern Ireland is still a very, very fragile thing and not something to be taken for granted. We have seen in the most graphic way possible that when politicians leave a vacuum the men of violence will fill it. When the Secretary of State speaks to the parties in Northern Ireland later this week, will she give leadership and make sure that, as a consequence of that, we see the political process back at the centre of Northern Ireland’s life again?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about politics in Northern Ireland. Of course, Northern Ireland is one of the places in the world that has been most transformed by politics: politics won over violence; politics won over terror—words won. People made enormous sacrifices, both personally and collectively as a community, in order to achieve the peace that we have seen over the past 21 years. He is right that it is a fragile peace; things can flare up at any time, as we saw last week. Hon. and right hon. Members have talked about the regularity of these kind of attacks and activities. Business as usual in Northern Ireland is not business as usual as many people in Great Britain would expect it to be, or would accept, and that needs to change. It is absolutely clear that we need to have devolution restored, but the lack of devolution is not the reason for these attacks. These attacks have been going on for far too long. There is no excuse for the acts that we saw; there is no excuse for anything that we have seen; and there is no excuse for the person who pulled that trigger and shot Lyra McKee.
In the days following her brutal murder, Lyra’s words have been shared around the world. It is not hard to see why. Just a few weeks ago, she wrote on social media:
“Derry is such a beautiful city. I’ve fallen in love with it over the past year, while falling in love with a woman who hails from it. Here’s to better times ahead and saying goodbye to bombs and bullets once and for all.”
Can there be no better tribute that we make to Lyra than pledging ourselves to achieving her dream in her name?
The hon. Lady makes such a powerful point, but the words of Lyra McKee are the most powerful. Derry is a beautiful, beautiful city. It feels ironic in many ways, but on Thursday evening, I had the opportunity to sit down with my family for the first time to watch the final episode of “Derry Girls”. To see the hope in that series, which was set around the time of the peace process, and to go to bed to be woken by that devastating news was just so tragic for such a beautiful city and for such wonderful people who really do deserve better.
Sadly, I am unable to attend Lyra’s funeral tomorrow in St Anne’s cathedral, and I know that other colleagues are unable to attend as well. On behalf of them, I extend our deepest sympathy to Lyra’s family, her friends, her colleagues who have spoken so movingly and so courageously about their work as journalists, and especially her partner whom she loved deeply and who loved her deeply—they should have been able to grow old together. Their lives are forever changed, and there will always be a gap at the table that no one else can fill.
I found the apology offered today by the New IRA absolutely nauseating. It cannot undo the grief, the heartache, the pain and the suffering of Lyra’s family, friends, colleagues and partner. It identified as the enemy PSNI officers—police officers—who courageously go about their business day after day and face this threat. They are not the enemy; they are there to protect the entire community—all of the community, as the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) has said—courageously and impartially. Will the Secretary of State just repeat the words that I have long remembered from a papal visit to Ireland: “Murder is murder is murder and it is always wrong”?
The hon. Lady speaks incredibly powerfully. There have been some wonderfully moving contributions and hers is certainly one of those. I am sure that Lyra’s family and friends will have heard her condolences. I am happy to pass on personally those condolences as I will be at the funeral tomorrow. About her comments and her quoting of the Pope, “Murder is murder is murder”—absolutely.
Lyra spoke about the dividends of peace not being shared. She was talking, I believe, about communities such as the one in which she was standing when she was so cruelly murdered. Does the Secretary of State accept—I know that she does not want to get into the restoration of the Assembly tonight—that if we are not going to see a restoration of devolution, she will have to find some other way, perhaps, of intervening, supporting and making a change in communities where young men are being raised to believe that those active in the troubles were heroes?
I am determined that we will see devolution restored because it is the right thing for Northern Ireland and the right thing for the people of Northern Ireland. I absolutely agree with the sentiments and the comments of the hon. Lady about the young people in those communities in Northern Ireland. She is right to say that those communities have been unable to benefit from the economic prosperity that we have seen in Northern Ireland largely because of how the dissidents behave and how they oppress that community. We need to see an end to it.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that it should not take a leading light of the future to be extinguished for hope to be reignited. Seeing those politicians in Northern Ireland coming together in memory of Lyra was hugely moving. I hope that the Secretary of State and others in the Cabinet will do everything that they can, because we have lost a leading light. Gail Walker, the editor of the Belfast Telegraph and Lyra’s friend wrote of her that
“everything about Lyra was about the light.”
The LGBT community has lost a leading light. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) read Lyra’s letter to her 14-year-old self. It was so searingly familiar to me that I wish I could go back in time and read it to my closeted 14-year-old self, because I do not think that I have ever read anything that captured my fears and worries as a closeted teenager so well. Her light may well have been extinguished tragically at such a happy and successful point in her life, but I hope that we will all do everything we can to make sure that her legacy will shine on forever and that what happened will not be in vain; peace, as we know, is precious.
The outpouring of grief for Lyra from her friends and from right across the community stands as a testimony to the wonderful kind person that Lyra was. I had the privilege of knowing Lyra personally. Indeed, she reached out to me and showed me great kindness at a very difficult time in my life. That is the sort of story that we have heard about Lyra. That is the person that she was. I know that I speak for so many of her friends today when I say that I just cannot believe that we are sadly talking about her death and her murder. Her testimony stands in direct contrast to the violent thugs who killed her and those who have attempted to justify that. There have been disgraceful, repugnant displays on the streets of Dublin and Belfast, and propaganda on social media. What actions will the Secretary of State take to ensure that these organisations cannot continue to spread the hate and the bile and to recruit more young people?
May I pass my personal condolences to the hon. Lady as a friend of Lyra’s? It must have been the most horrendous weekend to have heard the news and still be coming to terms with it. I thank her for being here and making her contribution; it is a great honour to her friend Lyra.
The hon. Lady is right about the way in which the dissident organisations operate, using social media and otherwise. As I said earlier, the way in which they operate, convincing young people—young men—that the right way to behave is to turn to a life of crime, is almost grooming. We do not tolerate organised criminality and dissident behaviour, and we need to see an end to it. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss further what we can do.
Lyra McKee was a child of the Good Friday agreement, and grew up in the hope that we could leave behind the idea of sectarianism and the division it caused. I was particularly moved by her comments in 2014, when she wrote:
“The Good Friday Agreement has created a new generation of young people, freed from the cultural constraints and prejudices of the one before. It used to be that being a Unionist or Nationalist was an accident of birth. You didn’t decide whether you were for the Union or not; the decision was made for you. Your friends were drawn from your own kind.”
Lyra represented a future where the only barriers to friendship were of bigotry and badness; and she represented a future of hope beyond that. I cannot help but feel a sense of loss for what Lyra represents—the embodiment of hope for Northern Ireland.
I am particularly concerned that organisations such as Saoradh seed that sense of division and hatred. Indeed, they plan to take part in events in Glasgow this coming weekend. Will the Secretary of State liaise with her colleague in the Home Office to ensure that we do whatever we can to prevent that horrible, toxic organisation from showing its face on the streets of Glasgow this weekend?
There has been a typically selfish, self-centred and “we’re the only people who matter” response from the republicans who have tried to justify the murder this weekend, describing it as a “difficult time for republicans” and blaming it on the PSNI by saying that it would never have happened if they had not been there. Will the Secretary of State give this House an assurance that, despite the fact that these people can rent a mob, rent a riot and everything else to try to disrupt life, there will be no let-up in police activity to search out the arms of these people? Will she also assure us that the police will not let up in pursuing and bringing to justice those who spread poison and hatred through social media or at graveside speeches, or who strut around the streets in illegal paramilitary parades?
I echo the words of the Secretary of State and pay condolences on behalf of my party to the family and friends of Lyra McKee. I am sure that the Secretary of State values the need to accord safety to journalists bringing truth from conflicts. Following this horrific attack, would she consider working with the Foreign Secretary to propose a UN convention for the protection of journalists worldwide, to ensure that reporters in conflict zones are not treated as combatants?
I thank the Secretary of State for the calm and thoughtful way in which she has led proceedings on this statement, and the way in which she reflected on the life of Lyra McKee, her contribution to the community in Northern Ireland and her sense of purpose in dismissing the view that political vacuums lead to violence. In the four years that I have been a Member of Parliament, we have seen the Provisional IRA murder a constituent of mine, Kevin McGuigan; the New IRA murder a constituent of mine, Adrian Ismay; and, within the last two months, the Ulster Volunteer Force murder a constituent of mine, Ian Ogle. The Secretary of State was right that what happened on Thursday night/Friday morning should not have happened, and she was right to say that it cannot be in vain. But does she recognise that that is a call to action, that we need to see action and that the Democratic Unionist party stands ready for it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. The conversations that I have had with the political leaders across Northern Ireland over the last few days indicate that all political parties are ready for that call to action. As I said earlier, tonight we need to think about a family who are grieving, but we absolutely have to ensure that we get political leadership back into Stormont, because it is what the people of Northern Ireland need and deserve, and it is what Lyra would want to see.
I thank the Secretary of State for her comments. Last week—in 2019—the New IRA murdered Lyra McKee in an indiscriminate shooting, depriving Northern Ireland and the whole world of a magnificent talent. She was an innocent bystander. We offer our sincere condolences to her partner, her mother and her family.
An apology from the dissident IRA is, of course, meaningless; it means nothing. I am sorry to say that the fact of the matter is that, unfortunately, they will kill again and they will say sorry again, and it will not mean anything to them. I remind the Secretary of State and the House of the murder of Joanne Mathers some 38 years ago, in 1981. This is the same IRA. There are new recruits—different people—pulling the trigger, but it is the same old men behind, directing operations. Joanne Mathers left behind her husband Lowry and her son Shane. Struck down for being a census worker, Joanne was a legitimate target as far as the IRA were concerned, and they deprived that family of a wife and a mother.
Will the Secretary of State give this House an important assurance? After the murder of Lyra McKee, 140 people gave evidence to the PSNI. Although we are pleased to see that an investigation is ongoing, is it too much to ask—for the husband and son of Joanne Mathers—that another investigation be reopened to ensure that those who perpetrated the murder of Joanne in 1981, the same as they did in 2019, are held accountable for their actions?
The hon. Gentleman made a number of points, the final of which related to the investigation of previous atrocities and murders. He will know that we have conducted a consultation into setting up the institutions that were agreed in the Stormont House agreement. We will publish our findings from that consultation shortly, but I would be very happy to sit down with him and work through where we are on that.
May I too express my personal condolences to the family of Lyra McKee—to her nearest and dearest, her loved ones, her partner, her friends and her colleagues? Grief is an awful bitter cup of which to taste, and no doubt the family feel that tragedy at the moment.
Lyra was on one of the first “Lessons from Auschwitz” visitations run out of Northern Ireland by the Holocaust Educational Trust; she took part just a few years ago. I understand from the leader of that group, whom I was in communication with this morning, that Lyra was clearly moved by her visit to Auschwitz, where she learned the vital lesson that people want to live for their beliefs, not to be murdered because of them.
Humanity has taken a terrible blow in the last few days and over this Easter weekend. That humanity is unbowed by terrorism, but it is only unbowed if we take action, and the actions that have been called for across this Chamber tonight will eventually fall to the Secretary of State. We cannot continue just to hope that something will happen. There has got to be more than words. The Secretary of State will have to take brave actions in terms of calling the Assembly together and in terms of putting it up to those parties reluctant to take action to either form a Government or not form a Government. That will fall to the Secretary of State.
The 17, 18 and 19-year-olds have no excuses. They do not have years of discrimination, and they have never known a terrorism war or mass unemployment. They have no excuses, yet there are people around them who will try to make those excuses. Pretty soon there will be no excuses for no action by this Government. We need action and we need an Assembly back; and you, Secretary of State, have to play your role in achieving that.
I want to assure the hon. Gentleman that I am determined that we will see the Executive re-formed. I will come to this House to talk about that at an appropriate time. I think that tonight, as I said earlier, is a moment for us to reflect on the life of Lyra McKee, but also, as the hon. Gentleman said, to reflect on the fact that this weekend we have seen the most heinous, barbarous acts across the world, reminding all of us of just how precious human life is. That is something that none of us wants to see, particularly over an Easter weekend. I, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, am determined that we will take the measures that we need to in Northern Ireland to ensure that it does not happen again.
I thank the Secretary of State for her words and pass on my own condolences to Lyra’s partner and the rest of her family, but also, especially, to the cross-community LGBT community in Northern Ireland on the loss of such an important figure in their movement to equality in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that to see, the other day, the political leadership of Northern Ireland, from the Democratic Unionist party to Sinn Féin and others, including the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), coming together gives us hope that the Good Friday agreement will continue for another 21 years.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments. What has been achieved in the past 21 years in Northern Ireland is absolutely remarkable. We cannot go backwards. We cannot allow the men of violence to win. We have to stand united. That is what we saw on Friday, when political leaders from across the community stood united in Creggan. I am absolutely determined that we will build on that and that we will see not just, as he said, 21 years but much, much longer for the people of Northern Ireland to enjoy peace, prosperity and a future following the Belfast-Good Friday agreement.
Colleagues, for the second time today it is my privilege to thank all Members, from the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State downwards, for both the content and the tone of what they said. Those words have been sincere and powerful, and therefore valid in and of themselves. If, in addition to those virtues, the words that colleagues have expressed offer some modest comfort to Lyra’s partner, her family and all those who knew and admired her, and everyone who believes in the triumph of peace over war and love over hate, that makes them additionally worth while. Thank you.