Brendan O’Connor: ‘After Lyra’s murder, is it #Time’sUp for terrorism?’

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Brendan O’Connor: ‘After Lyra’s murder, is it #Time’sUp for terrorism?’

There is a new generation not as inured to violence as we were, and they are bringing ‘wokeness’ to the old ways of Northern Ireland


NEW GENERATION: Signing a book of condolence at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered Lyra McKee. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
NEW GENERATION: Signing a book of condolence at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered Lyra McKee. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Have we just witnessed what happens when identity politics gets real? Have we just witnessed a generation maturing beyond identity politics and into the real world? Have we just witnessed terrorism and nationalism disrupted in the way that taxis, food delivery, retail and family values were disrupted? Is it #Time’sUp for terrorism? Is it #Metoo for murderers?

We need to be careful not to lay too much on Lyra McKee’s shoulders, to expect too much from her. There is no doubt last week constituted some kind of a moment. No one could have predicted the ripples, or perhaps the tsunami, that emanated from the death of Lyra. It caught a lot of people by surprise.

You were tempted to think it might not resonate ”down here” as much as it did ”up there”. But that was old-world thinking. That was thinking from a time when there was a notional border. It was a mistake to think Lyra would not cause an earthquake down here because she was not of this tribe. Lyra did not work according to the old tribal network of Catholic or Protestant, up there or down here.

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Lyra was part of many other tribes though, and they were tribes without frontiers. She was part of a tribe of fearless Northern female journalists. She was part of the LGBT tribe, part of the Harry Potter tribe, part of the Marvel tribe, part of the tribe of ceasefire babies who never saw the spoils, part of the social media tribe, part of the millennial tribe.

And when one of their own is attacked, these tribes don’t see county or country or creed. And they rallied around and said: “Actually. No.”

They are not inured to violence the way we were. They aren’t dulled to victims the way we were. We were all inoculated against horror for too long. We were grateful for peace, but we did not take a lack of violence for granted the way this generation does.

They saw this act for what it was and they saw it with complete clarity, not just the latest victim, the latest atrocity. They saw one of their own out doing the kind of thing they do, being shot in cold blood. And they don’t think it’s acceptable.

You would hope that this is the watershed people want it to be in Northern politics, but looking at the two main parties already adopting entrenched positions, you’d wonder. The murder of Lyra could be a watershed moment in another way, however.

Is this the moment when Irish millennials, North and South, graduate to ”real” politics?

Issues of gender, sexuality, language, offence, mental health and identity politics in general are important issues to this generation. And millennials and GenZ-ers have effectively, in an astonishingly short period of time, disrupted years of thinking, custom and practice in these areas.

But there is a sense that they sometimes fail to engage with what you might call the traditional realm of politics – call it old politics. They get indignant about housing a bit but they aren’t hugely agitating on economic issues in general. They are exercised about climate change but we haven’t yet seen them turn the traditional politics end of environmentalism – the Green Party – into the force you feel it should be at this moment in time.

Up to now, in many ways, millennials have been happy to leave old politics, traditional politics, in the hands of the older crowd. They march but they don’t run. They prefer direct action to representative democracy. They fight the system from outside.

It is remarkable really that traditional politics on this island, along with, to a certain extent, education, are two huge arenas that have not been disrupted by the huge changes wrought by technology and by wokeness. The media, music, film, TV, theatre, the social scene, dating, food, shopping, health, transport have all changed hugely in a short time.

We’ve seen massive tipping points. But the same kind of people still run the North – older, tribal, out of touch. Certainly there has been an element of identity politics grafted on to the Northern divide. It’s telling that two of the main issues allegedly keeping them from having a government in the North are now gay marriage and the Irish language.

But the optics of Northern politics now are that an older out-of-touch generation is holding everyone back and causing tragedies like the death of Lyra.

There is a more powerful and more damning optic too. The narrative that has emerged from Derry and specifically from the Creggan over the last 10 days has been one of older men – ”conflict junkies” – manipulating underprivileged kids, giving them guns and petrol bombs.

It is a familiar image of these times – out-of-touch old men from the past, desperately trying to hold on to power and relevance, vampires whose time is up, feeding greedily off youth. The image of Brian Kenna of Saoradh perhaps sums it up.

And something extraordinary has happened in the Creggan this past week. The Creggan is Woke. They are not afraid anymore. They are helping the police, 140 of them in the first few days of the investigation into Lyra’s death. Unthinkable before last week. They are changing the nature of graffiti in broad daylight. They are daubing blood-red hands on the wall of a dissident HQ. They are taking the symbols and the techniques of the social revolution of recent years, even using the hashtag notinmyname, and they are applying them to the land where time stood still.

Back in the 1990s, the time in which the sitcom Derry Girls is set, two groups of young people from either side of the divide might have had difficulty thinking of things that Catholics and Protestants had in common to write on the blackboard. But if that scene were re-enacted in 2019, you can be sure they’d think of plenty.

Those who thought that there was unfinished revolution in the North might find that it is not the revolution they were expecting.

The murder of Lyra McKee could become a lightning rod and rallying call for a new revolution, by young people who reject the past, who reject violence, who won’t have it, who are calling time’s up on tribalism and who are starting to realise that from Harry Potter to the Marvel Universe to the lack of a future, to mental health, to revulsion at the cold-blooded murder of one of their own, they have more in common with each other than they do with an out-of-touch generation of politicians and paramilitaries who are stuck in the past.

Sunday Independent

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