Current Affairs Politics

Lyra McKee’s Angels With Blue Faces. A Story Ignored

The fatal wounding of the Irish journalist Lyra McKee during an indiscriminate New IRA gun-attack on PSNI officers and armoured vehicles in the city of Derry, where she was observing violent protests following police raids earlier in the day, rightly shocked and dismayed the country, bringing back memories of the worse years of the northern conflict. The twenty-nine year old writer had earned a modest reputation for herself both domestically and internationally as a literary poster-child of the post-Troubles generation; although unlike many others of that age group, the Belfast-born woman had maintained an activist’s interest in the causes, the course and the outcome of the thirty years of war and strife in the north-east of the island.

Her tragic death led to weeks of eulogising and hand wringing in the Irish and British press with a gaggle of government leaders, politicians, diplomats and journalists attending her funeral at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, expressing solidarity with her loved ones and a very public, if rather select, rejection of politically-motivated or -directed violence. Reports that a new book by McKee on the Troubles was to be published posthumously received almost equal publicity, fitting in with the narrative of a talented up-and-coming young author cut down in the prime of her life by the “[Irish] men of violence”.

It is somewhat strange then that Lyra McKee’s posthumous work, Angels With Blue Faces, launched at the start of August has been all but ignored by the media in Ireland and Britain, with a notable if isolated exception, receiving a handful of lacklustre reviews. This is even stranger when one considers the sensationalist subject matter of the book, the assassination of the Reverend Robert Bradford, a Methodist minister and elected member of the House of Commons for the Ulster Unionist Party, in November 1981. The (Provisional) Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for the gun attack in a local community centre that resulted in his death, accusing the high-profile Belfast South MP, a former representative of the far-right Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, of stirring up sectarian violence in the city and giving succour to militant loyalism.

However rumour and speculation about the exact circumstances of Bradford’s death has circulated ever since, with even the normally staid Jim Molyneaux, the head of the UUP and Bradford’s former leadership rival, insinuating that agents of the British state were behind the slaying. And this forms the crux of Lyra McKee’s partly crowdfunded book. In it she alleges that Robert Bradford was about to make public one of the best kept secrets of the Troubles. That the United Kingdom’s intelligence services, specifically the Security Service or MI5, had been monitoring at best, facilitating at worse, the activities of a latterly proven paedophile ring based at Kincora Boys’ Home, East Belfast, in order to blackmail a number of prominent terrorists, politicians and businessmen from the ostensibly pro-UK or pro-union community as part of its strategic campaign against the IRA and its supporters. And that fears of Bradford revealing its operations had led the clandestine organisation to set up the well-protected UUP MP for assassination, supplying targeting information to the IRA through double-agents in its ranks.

It’s strange then that a sensational investigation into Britain’s dirty war in Ireland, featuring a litany of well-known characters and events from recent British and Irish history by a journalist who died in headline-making circumstances has been largely disregarded by the press in both countries. Especially as she herself allegedly confided to friends that she was “getting paranoid” due to the dangers around her research. Conspiracies, spies, terrorism, the abuse of children, the corruption of politicians and governments, all this should be grist for the media mill. But instead the number of reviews in print or online for McKee’s publication has been paltry and those that have been printed have been dismissive.

So what’s going on here? Despite claims to the contrary there is no evidence that there is any overarching attempt by the authorities in the UK or their sympathisers in Ireland to “deplatform” Lyra McKee’s book or the controversial suggestions within it. Rather, it seems that many journalists and editors, especially the British ones, simply aren’t interested in that aspect of the Belfast woman’s life and career. Instead they only see value in the circumstances of her death, as a political cudgel against Irish Republicanism in general, or as a convenient metaphor for the “tribalism” and “atavistic nature” of the Troubles in the north of Ireland, hiding its colonial causes behind Britain’s age-old canard that, “That’s just what the Irish do. They kill each other”.

Which means that the general public in the UK will continue to live in self-satisfied ignorance of their nation’s activities on this side of the Irish Sea, denying their responsibility and role in the Troubles. Past or future.

19 comments on “Lyra McKee’s Angels With Blue Faces. A Story Ignored

  1. If you wish to comment on the above post, please do so. But I would remind readers of the country’s strict libel laws. And contrary to popular myth, legal action can be taken for “defaming” the dead, albeit in extraordinary circumstances. So by all means contribute, but with care.

  2. Carefully then, who stands next to an enemy vehicle in a shoot out? She was pals with the Chief Constable, impartial, much? Is Francis going to canonize her now?

    • Who fires several rounds from a handgun in the general direction of a target, in the dark, near which are groups of journalists and other civilians? It was an idiotic action. RDE also claims friendship with McKee and I wouldn’t hold that against the late reporter.

      It was an reckless action by NIRA. And took a life for good reason.

      • The RUC are civilians. Whomever did it was a “ceasefire soldier” (in since after ’94) with no combat experience. I will say the same thing to her family and partner (who seems to be on TV often) – Sorry there was a fatality, but Big Boys Games, Big Boys Rules.

      • Her murder was odd alright. Given the topic she was researching one has to wonder if the shooter was a British intelligence asset in the NIRA. I can’t know, but the whole incident stinks.

        Side note – my great uncle was a stringer for MI6 in east Africa in the 60s/70s, when he decided not to work for them anymore in the early 80s they attempted to assassinate him, by a stroke of fortune they failed so he told all on Pat Kenny radio show once he recovered to remove the need for them to try again. The security services have only grown more brazen in the four decades since, so I would be hesitant to rule out conspiracy theories, while also retaining a healthy skepticism.

  3. To be fair, the British and Irish media have never been shy of exposing truths about, and wrongdoing on the part of, sections of the establishment – be it military, judicial, policing or political. It might just be a terrible book, and people are loathe to say so given the author’s sad fate. It would have been helpful if ASF had reviewed the book.

    • Maybe it is a terrible book? But why the obvious lack of reviews in the Irish and UK press? Politeness sounds fairly implausible to me. A collective uneasiness with the subject matter sounds more plausible.

      It wouldn’t be the first book exploring aspects of the UK’s Dirty War in Ireland to be deplatformed in the UK media. We could both probably name a half-dozen titles by noted journalists and authors that have met a similar fate.

      Sure, UK audiences/readerships hate anything to do with the “Troubles” full stop. It’s a buzzkill. But it doesn’t stop other similarly weighty or controversial topics or publications being aired or reviewed. The obvious reluctance to address the allegations by a Lyra McKee as opposed to a Patrick Radden Keefe says much for the consensus mindset or group-think on the Troubles in the UK and Ireland.

      Brits good, Irish (specifically IRA Irish) bad.

      • You could be right, of course, but your comments and conjectures would carry a little more weight if you’d actually read the thing. As for me, I find it hard to imagine that the Kincora scandal has anything of substance left to reveal. It has been fairly rigorously covered over the years by numerous very experienced investigative journalists. And, with all due respect to her memory, it’s hard to believe that a complete rookie like Lyra McKee was going to find something that her predecessors missed. I am certain if she had found something concrete, the media in Ireland and Britain would have been all over it. Most of all, I have a real aversion to conspiracy theories (George Soros would agree with me on that point, I suspect). Look at some of the comments and speculation on here, for example. The young fool (for that’s what I think he was) who shot Lyra has even been labelled a British asset, in order to support the theory that this book is being deliberately suppressed by “deep state” actors. Let’s hope for his sake that his “superiors” would require a little more evidence before jumping to that conclusion.

        • Have a copy ordered, so will get back to you on that. But fair points.

        • And sometimes that happens. Any movement should think before embracing something like this in full.

          What is the probability of it being true? Being proven? If it is proven how likely is it that it will change a significant number of minds or produce a tangible result? As a change of rules? Somebody being brought to justice? Released for crime they did not commit?

      • Not all discomfort with such things is about bigotry.

        I grew up in a society with a raging Dolchstosslegende and EXTREME discomfort with a recent war. Often in that setting people may be motivated more by fear of conflict or the message that by so much as asking questions you are somehow doing grievous harm to the soldiers involved. Often people without a bigoted bone in their body wouldn’t dare touch the subject over those things.

        I grew up terrified of it getting out at school that my parents had once been anti-war protesters, as some teachers and parents of classmates had fought in it. Turned out there was nothing to fear, all but one of those teachers became anti-war themselves…. and even the parents had no major grudges. The message from the most of the culture however, was that if they knew they would hate me so much it would make coming out as gay in Alabama in the 1940’s look fun by comparison.

      • It did receive a quite scathing review in the Irish News, largely for not presenting anything new or notable and its amateurish writing. In that, its understandable why most would rather leave the criticism be.

  4. It is entirely possible that a lot of people who wouldn’t condone what happened to Lyra McKee and don’t want the GFA violated, wouldn’t be too keen to dig up something from decades ago. They may believe that while killing her was wrong, that her conclusions are unlikely to be true.

    One thing I did quite a bit as an activist was to ignore the large majority of investigative journalists whose conclusions would seem at least at first sight to support The Cause. My thinking was that it was hard to know which ones would pan out (most probably wouldn’t), how many minds it would change even if true, and if chasing all these things couldn’t just be a large waste of resources………….That’s very, very different from saying I’d condone murdering any of the journalists involved!!!!!

    It could be that world over, the “epidemic of crazy” is causing people to be more skeptical than ever with loads of mad conspiracy theories everywhere.

    As for the whole “Irish people kill each other” trope. I would say that to my eyes it look as if political violence in The UK and Ireland seem to share a particular flavor. It is amazing to me the degree to which British women’s suffragists (aka Suffragettes) were so willing to do things like break windows or bomb things….stuff that didn’t happen in the large majority of other countries where women gained the right to vote long after their menfolk got it via Evolution, Revolution, or Independence-many of these countries had raucous feminist and women’s suffrage movements, but Britain’s level of violence on their part and the governments actions against them seem very, very unique-and very similar to much of what happened in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

  5. Have you read it Sionnach and is it any good? Would a review be worthwhile?

    • Not yet, but an online friend has read it and while it covers ground explored elsewhere, she brings all the competing or different strands together in one book, plus her own original research.

  6. It wouldn’t be the first time Brit spooks used ‘paramilitaries’ as cover to kill someone. They did here and they did it faraway lands such as Iraq. Heck they even use ISIS in Syria to effect their dirty work. Btw, KIncora also threw up the shooting of John mckeague who it was claimed was shot by an agent in the INLA.

    • Yes, but it wasn’t British spooks, it was a young lad with a firearm in the Creggan knocking off a few rounds in the general direction of the PSNI, in the dark, and probably with little knowledge of how to use the firearm he was holding. We know who was to blame and that was NIRA. If you want to make a larger point about partition and cause and effect that is fair enough. But we shouldn’t let the NIRA grouping off the hook for McKee’s death. They killed her, intentionally or not, they killed her.

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