Priest: Why did it take Lyra McKee death to kickstart peace talks?

A priest has asked Northern Ireland’s politicians why it took the death of a 29-year-old woman to unite their parties.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May stood alongside her Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, behind Lyra McKee’s coffin after she was shot dead by dissident republicans while observing rioting in Londonderry.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has said she intends to hold discussions with Stormont’s party leaders this week in an effort to restore powersharing. They attended a vigil together in Londonderry following the young journalist’s death.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald was seated close to DUP chief Arlene Foster inside St Anne’s Cathedral during Ms McKee’s funeral in Belfast.

Powersharing has been suspended for more than two years in a row over identity issues.

Fr Martin Magill said: “Why does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?”

Ms McKee was killed by indiscriminate fire as she observed clashes between police and New IRA dissidents on the Creggan estate in Londonderry on April 18.

Mourners said they hoped pleas for action would not fall on deaf ears.

Mrs May said afterwards: “We must do our utmost to ensure that that does not happen.”

Miss McKee was gay and non-sectarian.

She revealed to a close friend plans to propose to her partner Sara Canning and get married in Donegal in 2022 just hours before she was murdered. Same-sex marriage is outlawed in Northern Ireland.

Stephen Lusty said: “She showed me pictures of the ring she had bought for Sara and told me of the fabulous plans she had of her proposal in May.”

The service of thanksgiving was held in the Church of Ireland cathedral, a short distance from her north Belfast home and close to a popular gay nightspot.

Order of service for the funeral of Lyra McKee
Order of service for the funeral of Lyra McKee (Brian Lawless/PA)

The journalist’s sister also urged politicians to get back to work and create a society where labels become meaningless.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party wanted to be in government making decisions on issues which impact on the lives of local people.

“We have told the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach that the current situation of stalemate of no Executive or Assembly is untenable and cannot continue.

“Sinn Fein is ready to play our full part in a serious and meaningful talks process which removes obstacles to power-sharing, delivers rights, and restores the Assembly.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “We want to see the Government take steps to ensure talks commence.

“For our part I want to ensure we can get down to business.

“We all need to come to the table in a spirit of wanting to restore the Assembly and dealing with the issues which matter to most to people.”

Ms McKee broke down barriers in a divided community in Northern Ireland, mourners were told.

She relished difference and embodied an alternative vision of a Northern Ireland at peace, a friend told the thanksgiving service in Belfast.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney were among those who attended.

Miss McKee sister Nichola Corner said she was the kindest and most gentle person the world will never forget.

“We can create a society where labels are meaningless.”

She added every single person should get the chance to grow up and make their dreams come true.

“This is Lyra’s legacy and we must carry it forward.

“This is the gift that God gave the world on the 31st of March 1990.

“We are all responsible for helping God’s will to be fulfilled, each and every one of us.”

Mourners listen to the service
Mourners listen to the service (Liam McBurney/PA)

She paid tribute to her sister’s bond with her mother.

“Whilst a broken heart can never be mended and an empty space can never be filled, the unconditional love that they both shared for each other will continue for eternity.”

Mr Lusty said she embodied a future of finding commonality, enjoying difference in others.

They had been robbed of a talent destined to become a stateswoman, with only holes left behind, he said.

Lyra McKee funeral
Friends arrive for the funeral service (Liam McBurney/PA)

He said Ms McKee’s lasting legacy should be peace.

“We have two choices, we can look into the holes and wait forever… or we can fill those holes today.

“Today we grieve but tomorrow let us fill that hole by adopting Lyra’s future and vision.”

In introductory comments, Dean Stephen Forde said: “Lyra was a person who broke down barriers and reached across boundaries.

“This was her hallmark in life, this is her legacy in death.”

Lyra McKee funeral
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service (Brian Lawless/PA)

Today should mark a new beginning for Northern Ireland, Fr Magill told mourners.

Dissident republican gunmen who killed the journalist should lay down their arms, he added.

Lyra McKee funeral
Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral at St Anne’s (Brian Lawless/PA)

Catholic priest Fr Magill said: “I dare to hope that Lyra’s murder on Holy Thursday night can be the doorway to a new beginning. I detect a deep desire for this.”

Fr Magill said: “To those who had any part in her murder, I encourage you to reflect on Lyra McKee, journalist and writer, as a powerful example of ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’.

“I plead with you to take the road of non-violence to achieve your political ends.”

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Since the killing many have condemned the culture of violence and coercive control practised by dissidents, the clergyman said.

“We need to send a very different message and so I appeal to those who have information about Lyra’s murder but who haven’t yet come forward to do so now.

“If you want to see an end to these brutal rules, and see a new society built on justice and fairness, on hope and not fear, then you can help build that society by letting the police know what you know.”

Flowers at the spot where Lyra McKee was killed in Creggan
Flowers at the spot where Lyra McKee was killed in Creggan (Aoife Moore/PA)

He called on political leaders to break the Stormont negotiations impasse.

“I pray that Lyra’s murder may be the catalyst needed for parties to start talking, to reform that which was corrosive in previous assemblies and to begin anew.”

Those attending the funeral were asked to wear Harry Potter and Marvel Comics merchandise in tribute to the journalist’s passion for both.

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The congregation was led by Ms McKee’s partner, aged 35, her mother Joan McKee, 68, brothers Gary and David and sisters Joan, Nichola and Mary.

Her family have paid tribute to a “gentle, innocent soul” whose “desire to bring people together made her totally apolitical”.

Sara Canning
Sara Canning (Brian Lawless/PA)

The New IRA is an amalgam of armed groups opposed to the peace process and it recently claimed responsibility for parcel bombs sent to London and Glasgow in March.

Police believe the violence in Derry was orchestrated in response to an earlier search by officers aimed at averting imminent trouble associated with the anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable George Hamilton said he felt the killers could be caught.

He added: “She cared passionately about issues and worked hard and with integrity, and of course that is in complete contrast to those people who came out of the shadows last Thursday night, fired shots at police lines, hitting Lyra and fatally injuring her.

“I suppose the outpouring of condemnation from the communities of Derry, Creggan all standing together in Creggan last Friday, was something I think was quite unique and quite different.

“We need to capitalise on that, we believe that the evidence to bring those responsible for Lyra’s murder is out there.”