McKee funeral priest hopeful about rekindled North talks

Varadkar, May announce negotiations to restart Stormont will begin on May 7th

Fr Martin Magill receives a standing ovation as he asks why it took the death of journalist Lyra McKee to bring politicians from different parties together.

 

The Belfast priest who challenged the North’s political leaders at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee has expressed hope for and belief in rekindled talks in Northern Ireland.

“They’ve been able to work through really difficult things before – there is a hope they can do it again, and a belief in them,” Fr Martin Magill said on Friday night.

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

He was speaking after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May on Friday announced that new negotiations aimed at reinstating devolution are to start on Tuesday, May 7th.

In a joint statement, Mr Varadkar and Ms May said following Ms McKee’s murder by the New IRA in Derry, they had “heard the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress”.

“We agree that what is now needed are actions and not just words from all of us who are in positions of leadership,” they said.

On Wednesday, to spontaneous applause, 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?”

On Friday Fr Magill urged politicians to go “back to [Lyra’s] gentle, determined doggedness, and ask they bring that [to the talks]. To listen to people’s desires, that we want to get through this, and a sense of encouragement – that people are there to encourage them on.”

Pallbearers carry the coffin after the funeral service of Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. Photograph: EPA/ Arthur Carron
Fr Magill (left) leads pallbearers carrying the coffin of Lyra McKee after the funeral service of at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast on Wednesday. Photograph: EPA/ Arthur Carron

Expansive negotiations

The Taoiseach and prime minister made clear these negotiations would be quite expansive, addressing matters relating to Northern Ireland, and to North-South and British-Irish relations. Key issues to be addressed include the Irish language, same-sex marriage, reforming the civil service, and dealing with the past.

The leaders are also to convene a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

At Stormont on Friday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Northern Secretary Karen Bradley said the talks would be reviewed at the end of May.

The governments believe there is a real public demand for political progress in the wake of the journalist’s murder. Ms McKee’s death “cannot be in vain”, said Ms Bradley, as she and the Tánaiste urged Northern parties to seize the opportunity to restore Stormont.

Mr Coveney said people in Northern Ireland wanted to see “if we can build a momentum”.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said agreement was achievable notwithstanding the difficulties. “We did reach a deal last February [2018] so a deal is possible,” she said.

This was a reference to a reported accommodation reached on a range of issues between the DUP and Sinn Féin in February last year, but which the DUP could not sell to its grassroots because of opposition to a proposed Irish language Act.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said there was no such finalised agreement last year while acknowledging that progress was made at the time. She said the DUP would enter the talks with a “willingness to find a solution for everybody in Northern Ireland and to get a balanced deal for all the people”.