Dissident republicans have been energised by their murder of journalist Lyra McKee, enjoying the publicity the killing generated, a police commander has claimed.
Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray, the officer in charge of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s anti-terror response, said the New IRA derived “sick and sad” pleasure in the reaction to the shooting, motivating them to intensify their activities in the region.
Ms Gray expressed regret that the public outcry following the murder of the 29-year-old, as she observed rioting in Londonderry in April, did not act as a watershed moment for the dissidents to reconsider their adherence to violence.
She claimed the reverse has been true, saying the killing in Derry’s Creggan area was a factor in the recent spike in dissident murder bids in the region.
“They enjoyed and were energised by the coverage they got following the murder of Lyra McKee – that actually buoyed them,” she told the PA news agency.
“Certainly they weren’t reaching towards any cessation of violence or stepping back from what they did – very, very sadly when the rest of the world is looking at this and saying what an outrage this is.”
She added: “I honestly thought, there is an opportunity here in society, and I think everybody got that, there was a real sense this could be a turning point and this could be a tipping point.
“Overall I am absolutely convinced that it actually energised them in a very sick and sad way, it has energised their efforts I believe.”
Ms Gray called a statement from the New IRA in the wake of the murder, in which it said it would be advising members to be more careful when targeting security forces, “ludicrous”.
“They certainly haven’t stopped recruiting, the New IRA haven’t stopped recruiting in their time since April,” she said.
“I think in some sick and sad way they have quite enjoyed the publicity that it brought them and I think it’s just tragic that death – that has been an unintended consequence I would image on their behalf – has resulted in no step back, no reflection whatsoever, other than ‘we’ll tell our volunteers to be more careful in the future’.”
Ms Gray also expressed concern that dissidents were attracting young recruits into their ranks.
“We are seeing activity at every level,” she said.
“I think it’s really sad that we do see young people being actively recruited in.
“There are 17, 18, 19-year-olds, there’s probably younger being involved and being influenced as well.
“These are kids that are born following the ceasefire and everything else, and it is pure exploitation of young people.
“I describe the older individuals that are involved in this, they are old enough to be these kids’ parents, old enough to know better, but they are predators and they are exploiting children.
“And I just think it’s incredibly sad that young people are being brought into a life of actually being encouraged and carrying out terrorist activity, and the guns are being put in their hands by older more experienced people who may or may not be still actively involved as well.
“Kids’ lives are going to be ruined as they go forward, it’s sad.”