The sister of Lyra McKee has called the timing of a leaked letter, reportedly from Sinn Féin, to a group accused of having links to the dissident republican group allegedly behind the journalist’s murder, “exploitative of the tragedy for political purposes”.
The two-year-old letter, from Sinn Féin’s Declan Kearney, reportedly referenced a potential “cooperation agreement” between Saoradh and Sinn Féin over achieving a border poll.
It was an attempt to “work towards unity and changing the constitutional position, but only by consent, only by the public working together” according to Sinn Féin’s vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, as she confirmed Kearney had written a letter to Saoradh.
However, Nichola McKee Corner, Lyra’s sister, called the leaking of the letter, at a divisive time for Sinn Féin’s electoral campaign, an exploitation of Lyra’s murder.
In a statement, McKee Corner questioned “the timing of the publication of this letter (given that it is over two years old) and the links made to my murdered sister”, and added that those responsible for leaking it “should hang their heads in shame for using my beloved sister in this way”.
McKee Corner said she was aware of Sinn Féin’s “efforts to encourage dissident republican groups, including Saoradh, to move away from violence and engage with the political process” since 2019, and that this “encouragement has been unsuccessful to date”.
She went on to urge Saoradh and the other dissident groups to “accept that the war is over” and that “they need to relinquish violence once and for all”.
McKee, a promising young journalist from Northern Ireland who wrote about the consequences of the Troubles, was 29 when she was murdered in Creggan, Derry in 2019, after she was hit by a bullet while she was reporting violent clashes between the New IRA and the police. Two men have since been charged with her murder.
McKee’s partner, Sara Canning, also expressed scepticism about the timing of the release, saying that news of the letter did not surprise her and that she believed it was inevitable there would be attempts to try to bring Saoradh “into the fold to a degree”.
“I’m not a Sinn Féin fan but that’s how things were done in the 1990s, and that’s how violence was brought to an end here, we brought the people into the political realm,” she told the BBC.
The release of the letter comes at a time described by O’Neill as a “moment in history and a moment for real change” – in an election video posted on Twitter – with polls are predicting Sinn Féin to secure a majority in the upcoming assembly elections, which would allow the party to nominate the first ever republican first minister in Northern Ireland.