Empty chair tribute at Queen’s Film Theatre for journalist Lyra McKee

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Report by Una Murphy – Images by Hannah Mitchell

Photographer Kevin Cooper, left, with Belfast Telegraph political editor Suzanne Breen, the empty chair for Lyra McKee and Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International

An empty chair at Belfast’s Queen’s Film Theatre and a May Day march in the city were how trade unionists and human rights activists remembered Lyra McKee, the journalist and writer shot dead in Derry last month.

Patrick Corrigan

“We’re leaving a seat vacant today for Lyra and will continue to support her legacy and the interests for which she worked,” Patrick Corrigan, head of Amnesty Northern Ireland, said following a screening on Saturday (May 4) of a ‘A Private War’ about journalist Marie Colvin, who was killed covering the Syrian war.

Lyra had been due to take part in the panel discussion at the QFT following the screening.

VIEWdigital editor Brian Pelan and journalist Bob Miller with the National Union of Journalists banner at the May Day march in Belfast – Image: Una Murphy
The poster of Lyra McKee which was carried by journalists on the May Day march in Belfast

Earlier in the day the National Union of Journalists remembered Lyra (29) during a May Day march around the streets of Belfast, organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, at which workers carried posters with a photograph of the journalist.

Suzanne Breen

Suzanne Breen, political editor at the Belfast Telegraph, speaking at the QFT event, said: “I shouldn’t be here today. That empty chair says much more than I can ever say, it speaks volumes.”

She described Lyra as someone “unique in journalism, a working-class woman”.

Ms Breen added that it would be “so wrong” for the death of a journalist to be used as an excuse to silence other journalists.

Kevin Cooper

Photographer Kevin Cooper said Lyra’s killing had brought back memories of the murder of journalist and NUJ member Martin O’Hagan in 2001.

“The role of journalists is the underpinning of our democracy; it is what we do as a profession, asking questions of powerful people,” he said.

Mr Cooper said that institutional abuse and the Westminster expenses scandal had both been brought to the attention of the public through investigations by journalists.

The arrests of Northern Ireland journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey under the Official Secrets Act over the documentary ‘No Stone Unturned’, which named alleged suspects in the Loughinisland massacre, were also highlighted during the event. More than 17,000 messages of support for the journalists from the public have been put on Amnesty’s website, Mr Corrigan said.

Mr Corrigan added that a judicial review challenging the legality of police raids on the journalists’ homes will take place at the end of the month.

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