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The sister of murdered journalist Lyra McKee has described the timing of a leaked letter as “exploitative of the tragedy for political purposes”.
A letter from Sinn Fein’s chairman Declan Kearney reportedly to Saoradh, a group accused of having links to the New IRA, mooted a potential “co-operation agreement” over achieving a border poll.
The New IRA is the dissident republican group linked to Ms McKee’s murder. She died after being hit by a bullet during rioting in the Creggan area of Londonderry in 2019.
The letter emerged at the weekend, just days before the Stormont Assembly election, at which Sinn Fein has been projected to top the poll.
This would allow the party to become the first nationalists or republicans to nominate a First Minister.
Sinn Fein has been criticised over the letter.
The party’s vice-president, Michelle O’Neill confirmed Mr Kearney had written a letter to Saoradh, but said it was to tell “those people to say that they must now work towards unity and changing the constitutional position, but only by consent, only by the public working together”.
In a statement, Nichola McKee Corner said she had been aware since 2019 of Sinn Fein’s “efforts to encourage dissident republican groups, including Saoradh, to move away from violence and engage with the political process”.
“I am also aware that this encouragement has been unsuccessful to date,” she said.
“I would question the timing of the publication of this letter (given that it is over two years old) and the links made to my murdered sister.
“I view this as exploitation of our Lyra’s murder for political purposes in the run up to the election and find this entirely reprehensible.
“The people who chose to do this should hang their heads in shame for using my beloved sister in this way.”
Ms McKee-Corner also urged Saoradh and the other dissident groups to “accept that the war is over”.
“They need to relinquish violence once and for all,” she said.
This election is about the future & bringing about real change.
On Thursday, you can vote for a First Minister for all.
We will be ready on day one to get the Executive up & running, to invest an extra £1 billion in health & support workers & families.pic.twitter.com/aBZ5LktbDE
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) May 2, 2022
Ms McKee’s partner, Sara Canning, was also sceptical about the timing of the release of the letter.
She said news of the letter did not surprise her as she felt it was inevitable that there would be attempts to “try and bring them into the fold to a degree”.
“I’m not a Sinn Fein fan but that’s how things were done in the 1990s, and that’s how violence was brought to an end here, we brought the people into the political realm,” she told the BBC.
Meanwhile Ms O’Neill described the election in a video on Twitter as a “moment in history and a moment for real change”.
“For the very first time you have the opportunity to vote for a First Minister for all, someone that will work in partnership with others, someone that will want to promote our economy, someone that will want to turn up for you and make a difference to you and your family’s lives,” she said.