Dissidents near Lyra McKee murder site have ‘forced some PSNI officers out’

Dissident republicans near where Lyra McKee was shot dead have forced some police officers out of the area, a report said.

A man walks past graffiti in the North Belfast area with the writing "Join Saoradh", an unregistered far-left political party formed by dissident republicans. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
A man walks past graffiti in the North Belfast area with the writing "Join Saoradh", an unregistered far-left political party formed by dissident republicans. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The north west of Northern Ireland has as many anti-peace process renegades as Belfast despite being less than half the size, a watchdog said.

The report by reviewer David Seymour was drawn up before talented young journalist Miss McKee, 29, was fatally injured while she observed unrest in Londonderry in April.

Mr Seymour wrote: “The intelligence picture is worrying and, inevitably, not fully understood by residents in the area.

“Dissident republican activity in the Derry/Strabane area is particularly potent.”

Derry/Strabane has a population well under half the size of Belfast.

As many dissidents in Londonderry and the nearby Co Tyrone town of Strabane pose a threat as in Belfast, the independent reviewer of security powers said in a report referring to last year.

He added: “Personal threats against officers who have exercised stop

and search powers have, in some cases, caused them to be transferred to other districts.”

Residents raised concerns with him about the police’s “heavy handed” response to an Easter parade in Creggan in Derry last year.

The mainly republican Creggan estate was where Miss McKee was fatally wounded a year later.

Residents also highlighted the distribution of a leaflet targeting Creggan, which was widely regarded by residents as a “slur” on the entire community and contrary to the spirit of community policing.

It was said that if a similar profiling tactic had been employed in a Muslim community in London, there would have been widespread condemnation.

An analysis of the number of such stops/searches by district showed

that most were in Derry/Strabane (1,450) and Belfast city (1,069), the reviewer’s report said.

In both, the number of stops/searches was significantly lower than last year.

In Derry and Strabane the numbers were down from 1,812 to 1,450.

The report said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had to be discreet because the community and business in particular did not want to see a negative image of Londonderry being promoted.

The situation was hampered by a lack of effective mechanisms for police community interaction, though the PSNI maintained that there was significant communication with local representatives, a commentator told the reviewer.

Recently an event allowing officers to interact with young people concerned about the exercise of stop and search powers in the city was cancelled after objections by an organisation which enjoys the support of dissident republicans.

The violence which led to Miss McKee being shot in the head by a member of the New IRA began after police conducted a search in Creggan ahead of the anniversary of the Easter Rising.

PSNI superintendent Alan Hutton said: “We are delivering community policing despite the activities of violent dissident republicans and this is evident in how we serve the public every day.

“These groups are not representative of the people of the city and they seek only to thwart progress in delivering the policing service that our community deserves.

“While this report refers to a period of time in 2018, we have seen just very recently with the murder of Lyra McKee, just how potent the threat violent dissident republicans pose.

“Their despicable and cowardly actions have cost one young woman her life and highlight the challenges faced by both PSNI and the community these groups would seek to control.

“While we are ever mindful of the threat that exists, we are committed to working with the community to provide a policing service that delivers on preventing crime, reducing harm and making our community safer.”