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New IRA: The Derry estate in the shadow of paramilitaries

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Media captionEmma Vardy reports from Derry’s Creggan Estate

In the area of Londonderry known as Creggan, normality belies an undercurrent of violence.

This mainly Catholic housing estate is one of Northern Ireland’s last hotbeds from where the New IRA try to advance their diminishing cause.

It feels a world apart. Forgotten.

Pro-IRA graffiti marks many walls. Some has been painted over, but the most prominent remain.

“The police will forget about you, we won’t”.

Next to the local shops, outside a school are makeshift signs.

“Informants will be shot”.

Anywhere else, you may imagine such threats would immediately be taken down. But not in Derry.

Fear creates a culture of silence.

“That is saying to people, ‘just you keep quiet and we’ll do what we like here’.”

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Lyra McKee was shot dead by the New IRA during attacks on police in Derry

Fr Joe Gormley knows the cost when paramilitaries attempt to assert control.

The priest anointed journalist Lyra McKee the night she was shot dead by the New IRA while observing rioting in April.

The 29-year-old writer and campaigner was standing near a police 4×4 vehicle when a masked gunman fired towards officers and onlookers.

“These people claim to be fighting for some kind of human rights but they treat people like animals if they don’t agree with them,” Fr Gormley explained.

“They don’t speak for the people of Creggan, but people here would be afraid, having signs like that outside a school like that is tantamount to abuse of our children.”

Image caption The authorities will not intervene to remove these IRA signs

Paramilitaries do not live in the shadows.

In a small community, they are people’s neighbours, family members, friends.

Many do not agree with their extremist views, but still have to live with them.

Police say Thomas Ashe Mellon and Fergal Melaugh are prominent members of the New IRA.

But in Derry you’ll just as easily run into them shopping at a supermarket.

A new placard reads: “Salute the men and women of violence”.

What is Saoradh?

Founded in 2016, Saoradh has the support of prisoners from the dissident group referred to as the New IRA in Maghaberry and Portlaoise prisons.

Several high-profile dissidents, including Colin Duffy and Nuala Perry, have also been linked to the party. It is chaired by Brian Kenna.

According to its constitution, Saoradh’s objective is to “effect an end to Britain’s illegal occupation of the six counties” and establish a 32-county Irish socialist republic.

The party has been highly critical of Sinn Féin in the past, with its chairman describing members as “false prophets who have been defeated and consumed by the very system they claim to oppose”.

Saoradh, which has offices in Belfast and Derry, campaigns for the release of all republican prisoners.

Since Lyra McKee’s death, what police say are the New IRA’s political wing, have launched a fresh drive to rally support.

The anti-British, anti-police messages, are stark.

Saoradh also recruit young people into their youth wing, Eistigi.

Image caption Neighbourhood police officers face a serious dissident threat in Derry

Neighbourhood police officers in Derry are trying to build trust with the community in the face of anti-police campaigns.

“We’re basically trying to get people to understand that we’re doing a job, we’re there to help them,” said police constable Chris White.

“We do our best to get out and speak to people, letting them see that we’re willing to engage with them and we’re there to help them.”

Image caption Emma Vardy questions a protester on a picket line supporting IRA prisoners

Police usually patrol the Creggan in armoured land rovers.

But they have promised the community they will be on the beat more, and face-to-face in future.

The New IRA claims to be continuing a long-standing armed struggle to end the British governance of Northern Ireland.

Image copyright AFP/Jess Lowe
Image caption Lyra McKee was a “hero” to the LGBT comminity in Northern Ireland, says a friend

Who was Lyra McKee?

Lyra McKee was a 29-year-old journalist, writer and campaigner.

She was shot dead while observing a riot in Derry’s Creggan estate in April 2019.

Ms McKee was considered a “rising star” in the world of journalism and had written for publications including Buzzfeed, Private Eye and The Atlantic.

She was named Sky News young journalist of the year in 2006 and Forbes Magazine named her as one of their 30 under 30 in media in Europe in 2016.

She had also signed a two-book deal with publisher Faber and Faber.

Ms McKee was known for her writing and advocacy on issues such as mental health and LGBT rights.

Originally from north Belfast, the journalist had moved to Derry to live with her partner, Sara Canning, who she described in a newspaper article in February as “the love of my life”.

This year, the group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks.

The group said it was behind a bomb which exploded outside Derry’s court house, explosives in letters to train stations and airports across the UK, and a bomb found under a police officer’s car in Belfast.

Last week, dissidents tried to murder police officers in Craigavon, County Armagh, luring them towards a deadly booby-trap device.

During the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, Derry saw some of the worst of the violence between paramilitaries, the Army and police.

The walls of the city are etched with murals depicting Bloody Sunday, the day in January 1972 that 13 people were killed and 15 people were wounded after members of the Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in the Bogside.

Those tensions still live on today.

“The Troubles began here in the city in ’68, and they have never really gone away,” explained one man, who passes by as we are filming the anti-police placards.

“Feelings do run high here.

“I’m not saying I support that message, but I certainly understand it.”

‘Community have the answers’

So, how do police overcome it then?

“I think it’s going to take another generation” replied Constable White.

Police believe the IRA gunman who shot Lyra McKee in April is a local teenager.

Officers have said they know that people within the community have the answers.

But no one has yet been charged.

Community workers have told the BBC they are negotiating with the dissidents to try to get the IRA threats removed.

The council, police, and other authorities will not intervene.

Many believe it is something only the community of Creggan can resolve within itself.


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