Extremists will fill political vacuum, Fr Martin Magill warns

Priest who spoke at Lyra McKee’s funeral urged politicians to take example from her ‘determined doggedness’

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein party leader Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein deputy leader  Michelle O’Neill attend the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee. Photograph: Charles McQuillan / POOL / AFP/Getty Images

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein party leader Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill attend the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee. Photograph: Charles McQuillan / POOL / AFP/Getty Images

 

Fr Martin Magill, the Belfast priest who officiated at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee, has said that a political vacuum risks being exploited by extremist elements in Northern Irish society.

Speaking to The Irish Times last night, he invoked the message of Ms McKee and her friends, who said the post Belfast Agreement generation need “jobs, education, health services, not putting guns into hands”.

“The more and more we have a political vacuum, the more some people will exploit that,” he said.

Fr Magill said he had a message of support and encouragement for Northern Ireland’s political leaders as they enter an intensive round of talks aimed at restarting the stalled Stormont Assembly.

There is a “wider responsibility” among voters to support politicians, he added. “We have to give them a certain amount of latitude and freedom . . . we can be very critical. It’s very easy to blame the politicians, it’s important to stand back on our own part and look at ourselves as voters.”

On Wednesday there was spontaneous applause and a standing ovation for Fr Magill when he challenged the North’s political leaders, who were attending the funeral of the 29-year-old who was shot dead by a New IRA gunman as she observed rioting in Derry. From the pulpit , the Belfast priest had asked, “Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?”

He said last night that having seen political leaders from the North introduce theBelfast Agreement, as well as other political milestones, “there is a hope they can do it again, and a belief in them”.

He said he did not foresee a return to the type of violence which marked the Troubles. “I don’t see that on the horizon,” he said.

“At this stage it’s very clear the majority of people want a complete end and I don’t see us going back.”

He urged the North’s leaders to take an example from Ms McKee’s “gentle, determined doggedness”, and to find people within society that they can trust, and to ask for help from the wider communities they serve.