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World Press Freedom Day: a tribute to Lyra McKee

3 May 2019

Journalists Lyra McKee and Martin O’Hagan were paid tribute to by Séamus Dooley on World Press Freedom Day.

Gerry Carson, chairman of the NUJ, Belfast and District branch introduced the union’s Irish Secretary at the Media and Democracy Why Journalism Matters event in Belfast’s Linen Hall library. Séamus Dooley said:

“That Saturday morning call telling me of Martin’s murder will live long in my memory. So too will a 5am tweet from Kathryn Johnston announcing the death of Lyra McKee. Her murder, a politically motivated crime, is as shocking and as devastating as the killing of Martin O’Hagan.
"Unlike Martin’s murder Lyra was not the target of a deliberate and premeditated act of violence against a journalist. But Lyra was killed during her work, the important work of witnessing news on the streets of Creggan. The person who fired that fatal shot did so with the intention of killing a worker. There is no doubt that if Lyra had not died some other family would have been grieving and we would be mourning from a distance. Instead we mourn the death of a colleague, a comrade, a friend to many who, in her short life, left an indelible mark on journalism.”

He said that Lyra had a great future in journalism and in many ways represented the future of journalism in Northern Ireland:

“Her focus on mental health, on suicide, on stigma, on sexual inequality and social exclusion set her apart in an industry where there is too little time for reflection, too little time for reaching beyond the predictable and the banal. In many ways Lyra had much in common with Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey in their investigative journalism, in their use of long form narratives and, not least in their determination to seek the truth. Northern Ireland remains an inhospitable place for journalists and the treatment of Trevor and Barry illustrates in microcosm the difficulties faced by those who seek the truth.”

He said Trevor and Barry in the film No Stone Unturned had shone a light into the darkest corners of the establishment of Northern Ireland. The official response – to target the messenger was deeply worrying.“The decision to focus on the messengers rather than the ugly, tawdry truth that is at the heart of No Stone Unturned gives cause for serious concern,” he said

He said the NUJ remained concerned at the failure to secure convictions for the murder of Martin O’Hagan and what unites Loughinisland and the murder of Martin is the spectre of police collusion:

“In a democracy – even in a non-functioning  democracy, citizens rely on the security forces to offer protection. The inconvenient truth of police collusion cannot be swept away, and we owe it to Martin, to the Loughisland victims and to all the other victims of collusion, to continue our battle.” He added: “Today we must assert the right of journalists to do our job, not just in Northern Ireland but across the globe. We reject extreme, external threats but we also need to look at our own industry. If journalism matters – and it does, it matters that newsrooms are being starved of resources, that pay and working conditions of journalists are under threat and that the desire for market takes priority over the need to invest in quality journalism. On World Press Freedom Day, we need all who profess to care about media freedom to accept that without a commitment to editorial excellence journalists cannot survive. There can be no democracy without a free press.”

Other speakers at the event were Patricia Irvine, chairperson of UNA NI.  Founded in 1945, UNA-NI is a non-governmental voluntary grassroots organisation, affiliated to UNA-UK, and member of the World Federation of United Nations Associations. Jim Boumelha, treasurer of the International Federation of Journalists, spoke about the work of the body which represents journalists’ union across the globe. Trevor Birney, the  award winning journalist of No Stone Unturned, about the Loughlinisland murders, spoke about the arrest of himself and his colleague Barry Mc Caffery. Also on the panel was Colin Wrafter, former Irish Ambassador to South Africa and director of the human rights unit at the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A  question and answer session was hosted by Angelina Fusco, former BBCNI’s editor of Television News. 

A photographic exhibition News and Views complied by Gerry Fitzgerald, former Belfast Telegraph photographic editor, opened the exhibition, and on show was the plaque dedicated to former NUJ Belfast Branch secretary Martin O’ Hagan, murdered by loyalist killers.

The NUJ joined trade unionists, activists and the family of Lyra McKee on the May Day parade in Belfast. A special mass was held for Lyra.

Find out more about the NUJ's campaign supporting Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey

In rememberance of Lyra McKee

Séamus Dooley discusses the reaction to Lyra Mckeee's murder and trends in the Irish media industry with Dublin-based journalist/producer Pat O’Mahony.

Tags: , lyra mckee, martin o'hagan, belfast, belfast and district branch, world press freedom day, trevor birney, barry mccaffrey, Loughinisland