Lyra McKee gives a TEDx talk in Northern Ireland's Parliament buildings in November 2017.

Editor’s Note: Mike Harris was a friend of journalist Lyra McKee, killed in Northern Ireland on Thursday night. Based in London, Harris is the CEO of 89up, a campaigns agency. He set up a fundraising campaign to help McKee’s family to cover her funeral costs.

CNN  — 

Last night, my friend Lyra McKee was shot dead by terrorists on the streets of Derry. She was shot in the head as she tried to cover riots which had broken out in the Creggan part of the city.

Lyra was part of a generation of young Northern Irish people who wanted to put the country’s troubled past behind it, to forge their own post-sectarian identity. Lyra wasn’t to be defined by whether she was a Protestant or Catholic, she was fiercely proud to be from Northern Ireland but aware that things could be better.

She was a journalist but also one of Northern Ireland’s new young voices. As a gay woman, Lyra wrote about her experiences of growing up gay in a country where gay marriage remains illegal.

Her letter to her 14-year-old self went viral and broke barriers. She dedicated her TEDx talk, in Northern Ireland’s parliament buildings, to those killed by a terrorist in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016 and LGBT people who had committed suicide.

Lyra’s work tried to take Northern Ireland beyond its tragic past. She had a bitter sweet relationship with her country, describing it as “a place full of darkness and mysteries … sometimes, I love it and hate it in equal measure.”

For in many ways Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK or the rest of Ireland, has remained trapped by its past. It has a younger generation who think of themselves in new identities, but a society where the scars of violence still run deep.

I first met Lyra when I came to Belfast to try and persuade the Northern Irish Assembly to reform the antiquated law of libel that was chilling investigative journalism. Asking around for people who I should reach out to, I got a unanimous response, “you have to speak to Lyra McKee.”

Lyra at the time would have been no older than 24 but had already established herself as a fearless investigative journalist with her research into the murder of Robert Bradford, a Northern Irish MP, more than 30 years before.

She immediately got back to me. “My line of work means I often upset people in power,” she told me.

“I often find myself being threatened with our archaic libel laws. For corrupt politicians, this law has become a means of silencing the press. This must end. Northern Ireland can never be a properly functioning democracy without a properly functioning press.”

Over the following years, a small campaign group of prominent and passionate Northern Irish human rights advocates formed, with Lyra being endlessly optimistic and generous with her time.

If you are a freelance journalist, it isn’t always easy finding the time for campaigns, but Lyra’s energy was boundless – if she thought something was wrong, she wanted to fix it.

And so she did with the libel laws – continuing to cajole politicians and our group to get the law reformed to protect investigative journalists like her.

If politicians in Northern Ireland want to do more than say warm words about Lyra, they should pass libel law reform in her memory. This would be a fitting tribute to a journalist who lost her life seeking the truth, and died while reporting on events around her.

Having worked with journalists across the world, who continue to be murdered for seeking the truth, you come to hear about friends from Azerbaijan or Belarus going missing, being jailed, or worse.

I didn’t expect this to happen in Northern Ireland in 2019. I didn’t expect this to happen to a 29-year-old friend who had her entire life ahead of her. It’s a testament to Lyra that the Gofundme account set up to support her family and legacy raised over £25,000 ($33,000) in just a few hours.

I’ll let Lyra finish in her own words, from her beautiful TED talk: “Within the LGBT community, we have a saying that we tell people, It Gets Better. And what I realized is that It Gets Better for some of us. It gets better for those of us who live long enough for us to see it get better.”