Dr Philip McGarry: The New IRA are not mentally ill or deluded, they are just doing what the IRA always did

Saoradh at Milltown cemetery in Belfast. The group paraded in Dublin city centre the day before. Dr McGarry asks: Can you imagine 48 hours after the Christchurch mosque shootings 150 white racists in combat fatigues parading through Auckland?
Saoradh at Milltown cemetery in Belfast. The group paraded in Dublin city centre the day before. Dr McGarry asks: Can you imagine 48 hours after the Christchurch mosque shootings 150 white racists in combat fatigues parading through Auckland?
Share this article

Lyra McKee, although only 29, had established a reputation as an extremely sophisticated  journalist and writer.

In 2016 she wrote an article for the US magazine ‘The Atlantic’, addressing our disturbingly high suicide rate, which is much greater than during ‘The Troubles’.

Dr Philip McGarry, a consultant psychiatrist

Dr Philip McGarry, a consultant psychiatrist

This chimed with work I carried out 30 years ago, showing that the worst years for violence had the lowest suicide rates, and that suicide increased with gradual ‘normalisation’.

Lyra looked at the extensive research from Israel on Holocaust survivors, and reported how their children (who themselves have an elevated suicide rate) often found their parents ‘inaccessible and distant’, unwilling to speak of the past, but clearly affected by it.

Lyra wrote eloquently of the emerging concept of ‘inter generational transmission of trauma’.

The lesson to be drawn is that burying bad memories is counter productive.

Lyra’s professional curiosity led her to explore in her work a past Northern Ireland that too many want to forget, but which, for the health of our society, we must not, cannot ignore. Otherwise, she will not be the last victim.

Most people will be appalled that even before Lyra has been buried, 150 associates of the New IRA paraded on Saturday through the centre of Dublin in combat uniform and dark glasses.

Sadly, only one citizen was seen to protest. This perfectly shows the fatal ambivalence we in Ireland have about the sanctity of human life that continues to poison our society. Can you imagine 48 hours after the Christchurch mosque shootings 150 white racists in combat fatigues parading through Auckland, or 48 hours after the Manchester arena bombing Islamists dressed in black parading through London?

No, of course not; it is unimaginable, not because the government would ban it, but because the population would not accept it.

The world, which has looked on appalled at Lyra McKee’s murder and listened to all the fine words of condemnation, must firstly be bemused by and then disgusted at such a brazen endorsement of violence.

They will rightly ask why an affluent democratic society is so far outwith the norms of the rest of Western Europe.

This brings home the absolute imperative to move beyond the traditional rhetoric after killings, and instead do something useful.

Some commentators have referred to the New IRA as ‘deluded’ and ‘crazy’, that they are ‘monsters’ and even ‘the Antichrist’, engaging in ‘senseless’ activities.

These terms are all misleading. In fact the New IRA are not mentally ill, nor psychopaths, and their aim to kill police officers,far from being senseless, is exactly what they had hoped for.

These individuals are doing what the IRA have always done, which is using physical force to pursue a political agenda.

My late father was a surgeon for 40 years at the Mater Hospital in Belfast. He once wryly told the medical,students: ‘You know, a Protestant spleen with a bullet in it looks just the same as a Catholic spleen with a bullet in it’.

He was (equally) disgusted by the violence of the IRA/INLA and the UVF/UDA. Two of his consultant colleagues had sons murdered by the UVF, and another a brother murdered by the IRA.

Sadly he died while the violence continued. However if alive today he would recognise the nauseating statement of Saoradh justifying the murder of Lyra McKee as being exactly the same as those issued by republicans and loyalists justifying killings throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

He might even recall that in April 1981 another 29-year-old woman (Joanne Mathers) was murdered in Derry by republicans.

No difference ... except for 38 years.

The New IRA will doubtless note the cognitive dissonance of those who criticise them for doing what they had unashamedly done themselves!

If we are serious as a community about genuinely ensuring Lyra’s killing is the last, then we must move beyond generalities.

What could genuinely help is actually quite simple. We must demand of every community leader, political, religious and others, that the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ulster/ the Union does not justify the taking of a single human life.

They must also state that just as the killings on Bloody Sunday (and almost certainly some other security force killings) were unjustified and unjustifiable, every killing by the IRA/UVF/INLA/UDA, right from the start in Malvern St in 1966, was unjustified and unjustifiable.

It would also help if they were to desist from repeating (those who do) the dangerous formulation of ’two communities’, which artificially divides us further; after all, which so-called ‘community’ was Lyra part of?

Lyra McKee reminded us that we can only deal with the present by making sense, in an honest way, of the past.

Let us do this, in her memory, and also for the good of our and future generations.

Dr Philip McGarry is a consultant psychiatrist