The Freedom of Speech Debate Reignited by Murder in Northern Ireland

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The Gryphon discusses the recent devastating murder of the journalist Lyra Mckee and the future of Ireland’s activism…

  Lyra Mckee, a 29-year-old journalist and LGBT activist was killed on the 18th April 2019 in Derry after being shot by dissident Republicans. The journalist was in Derry to observe rioting on Thursday night following police raids in the areas of Mulroy Park and Galliagh. She was killed by a gunman affiliated to the paramilitary group known as the ‘New IRA’, who have since accepted responsibility for the murder. Mckee was a young journalist whose work was focused on the hardship faced by many of the youngest generation of Northern Irelanders- those who have grown up in the economically challenging post-Troubles period.

  The ‘New IRA’ have been more active than many observers may realise, being linked to 4 murders since their formation (believed to be around 2011/2012). They have purported links with the hard-left political party, ‘Saoradh’, who have previously sought to justify the use of violence during the rioting in Derry. A pressing worry with the group is that they have a foothold with young, disaffected members of the community from areas that suffer from acute socio-economic deprivation. This young generation, who are also burdened with high suicide rates, an area of attention that was raised by Mckee in an article entitled “Suicide of Ceasefire Babies”, have little or no memory of the troubles and are unfortunately those increasingly likely to be caught up in supporting the group whose actions led to the murder of Mckee.

  The important question raised is whether, under freedom of speech, organisations that preach extreme views and can be confidently linked with violence and illegal activity, should be allowed to exist? This is a difficult question for states to answer. For example organisations such as ‘Extinction Rebellion’, the ‘EDL’ and ‘Britain First’ have all been caught partaking in illegal action in recent years to further their cause across the UK, however it is clear to any level-minded observer that these organisations should not be labelled under the same banner. Nevertheless, it is hard to see how the state could classify who can protest and the manner in which they plan to do so.  

  One of the most widely held beliefs in the UK is that freedom of speech should be upheld and that individuals have the right to express their views on a level platform, however when it comes to groups that employ violence, as in the shameful murder of Lyra Mckee, it is clear that the state should act in order to protect the public.

  Furthermore, it is unclear if the banning of groups and organisations, along with their censorship on social media platforms, which choose to do this as private entities, goes any way to decrease the likelihood that the individuals in question are less likely to be involved in violence. For example, Tommy Robinson, the far right, anti-Islam campaigner has recently served time in the British Penal system and has ramped up his street-level demonstrations, despite his access to Facebook and Twitter being curtailed.

  The question of extreme, hard left and hard right parties and organisations in Northern Ireland is further complicated by the long and fraught history of the region. The inclusivity of Republicans and Unionists in the Stormont power sharing system is a legacy of the 1998 Good Friday agreements which aimed to not only strike a balance between the two major contrasting political ideologies in the region but was also part of the reconciliation process for those who had previously been engaged in militance and violence. The continuation of cross-party cooperation is much needed as power sharing at Stormont has broken down since 2017, a point raised by Fr Martin Magill at Mckees funeral, which prompted a standing ovation by the congregation.

It is evident to all that this murder was of an innocent woman and that violence in the political sphere should not be employed. In the politically complex navigational waters of Northern Ireland, the real question remains ‘how far should organisations linked directly to violence be allowed to persist and what are the methods in which those groups can have their participation violence prevented’? The legacy of Lyra Mckee’s murder should be the shattering of political capital, appetite and support for those groups who wish to employ violence to further their political goals.