A 29-year-old journalist and author, Lyra McKee, was shot dead during riots in the Creggan area of Derry. Police described it as a terrorist attack.
This is not a newsflash from the 1980s but a horrific statement of what happened on Thursday night. Minutes before she was killed, Lyra McKee tweeted: “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”
For anyone who needs reminding – and there are plenty in the House of Commons – this awful event should jolt awareness of how fragile Irish peace can be. Any action or inaction which impinges on it should be ruthlessly assessed against that criterion.
Amidst the tributes to a young woman of great talent, senselessly murdered for some grotesque political motivation, there were also pleas for an end to the political vacuum which is creating space for the fringes to regroup.
The National Union of Journalists said: “This killing serves as a reminder of the ongoing instability in Northern Ireland and must persuade those in positions of leadership to end the political deadlock.” But will it have the slightest effect?
There were condemnations from both Sinn Fein and the DUP. But what is the point of words if their actions, supposedly based on some obscure high principles, have the daily effect of undermining the whole basis of the Good Friday Agreement and the power-sharing agreement that was integral to it?
Neither can our own politicians – Labour, SNP, Liberal – absolve themselves of responsibility for as long as they prolong the uncertainty over EU membership and thereby perpetuate the possibility of a harder border within Ireland than the one which currently exists.
If they did not know before, will they recognise now that there are people ready and eager for any such outcome – or that it would be the most effective recruiting sergeant for violence that even the stupidest British politicians are capable of producing?
This is not just “one issue among many” but – as I have repeatedly argued over the past couple of years – the one that must condition the whole negotiation.
You cannot have a hard border within Ireland. Full stop.
Therefore you cannot have a hard border between the rest of the UK and the rest of the EU. That is what the famous backstop underpins.
Yet, for the past six months, the “Irish backstop” has been the figleaf behind which opponents of a deal between the EU and UK have hidden in order to promote entirely different agendas – themselves totally incompatible with each other.
The backstop has been used as an alibi rather than respected for its own critical importance. It is to Theresa May’s credit that she both accepted the backstop as an essential element of any deal and has not wavered in its defence.
What mayhem would have been promoted if loudmouths like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg had been in a position to dismiss it, as they have repeatedly boasted they would?
Opposition politicians bear no lesser responsibility. For all these months, the only sure way to underpin the backstop and guarantee “business as usual” within the island of Ireland has been to accept the only deal that is being offered by the EU, or some negotiated variation thereof.
That is still the position and these events in Derry should concentrate the minds of the Labour leadership on securing whatever they can in the interests of working people and their familiies from their talks with the Government – but ultimately concluding a deal. That is what every political party in Ireland, apart from the DUP, wants to see.
Proceeding with the European elections is complete madness. They are threatening to create a hard-right voting block which will not then melt away and anyone who assumes that, in these circumstances, the outcome of a second referendum would be more certain or less divisive than the first is a product of their own arrogance.
While there is no ideal solution to Brexit, there are certainly lessers of evil. There are many good reasons for real leaders to act on that principle and Irish peace is one of them.