Foster and McDonald respond to priest’s plea for political movement

Following Lyra McKee funeral leaders say they want to restore powersharing

The death of Lyra McKee should mark a new beginning for Northern Ireland, Father Martin Magill told mourners at the funeral of the young journalist in St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast. Video: Reuters / BBC pool

 

DUP and Sinn Féin leaders Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald, after hearing Fr Martin Magill’s plea for political movement at the funeral of Lyra McKee, said they wanted to restore the powersharing administration at Stormont.

However they appeared in statements on Wednesday evening to be holding to fixed positions.

Fr Magill triggered loud and spontaneous applause in St Anne’s Cathedral when he queried why it took Ms McKee’s murder to bring politicians to a point where they appeared prepared to work together to try to solve outstanding issues. “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?” he said.

The journalist and writer died in a New IRA gun attack in the Creggan in Derry on Thursday.

After the funeral Ms Foster spoke separately with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and with Northern Secretary Karen Bradley about the potential value of holding fresh talks aimed at reinstating devolution.

“We want to see the [British] 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 most to people,” she said.

‘Parallel’ talks

Ms Foster repeated her proposal to bring back Stormont while holding a “parallel” talks process to resolve outstanding differences.

Ms McDonald said Fr Magill “in a clear concise way said what I have heard all over Ireland – people want the Executive and the Assembly up and running, people want equality and they want good government they can have confidence in”.

“Political leaders should be working together,” added the Sinn Féin leader.

“Sinn Féin is ready to play our full part in a serious and meaningful talks process which removes obstacles to powersharing, delivers rights and restores the Assembly,” she said.

“The two governments should now meet with urgency through the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, to provide solutions to the outstanding rights issues, which are at the heart of sustainable powersharing,” added Ms McDonald.

Ms McDonald and Ms Foster were among politicians and dignataries from both sides of the Border as well as from Britain at the ecumenical funeral service.

Attendance

The attendance included President Michael D Higgins; Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Co Down, Lord Lieut Fionnuala Cooke; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, British prime minister Theresa May, Ms Bradley, Labour leader Brendan Howlin and British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Also at the funeral were DUP East Derry MP Gregory Campbell and party Assembly member for South Antrim Pam Cameron, Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill and party MEP Martina Anderson.

Also present were SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann, Alliance leader Naomi Long, Greens leader in Northern Ireland Clare Bailey, Mr Coveney, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and the Scottish National Party leader in the House of Commons, Ian Blackford.

PSNI chief constable George Hamilton and deputy chief constable Stephen Martin also joined mourners as did former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, former leader of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition Prof Monica McWilliams and historian Ruth Dudley Edwards.

The SDLP mayor of Derry, John Boyle, attended as did former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Rev Dr John Dunlop and Methodist minister Rev Harold Good, who with the late Fr Alec Reid oversaw IRA decommissioning in 2005.

Among the many journalists who attended were the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Michelle Stanistreet, Irish NUJ secretary Seamus Dooley and Belfast NUJ executive member Gerry Carson.