Lyra McKee funeral: Priest wins standing ovation for swipe at politicians

‘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?’

Father Martin Magill receives standing ovation when he asked politicians why it took the death of a 29-year-old to unite them

A priest leading the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee won a standing ovation when he questioned why it took her murder to force politicians to join forces against violence.

The 600-strong congregation broke into spontaneous applause as Father Martin Magill referred to party leaders uniting only after the killing of the 29-year-old in Derry by the New IRA.

Commending political leaders for standing together since, he went on: “I am, however, left with a question: Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her-”

At that point he had to stop for the spontaneous standing ovation, before continuing: “…the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?”

To a congregation in Belfast that included Irish premier Leo Varadkar, Sinn Fein leaders and DUP leader Arlene Foster, Fr Magill also called on politicians to restart talks on the suspended Stormont assembly.

“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,” he said.

And he urged the dissident republicans who murdered Ms McKee to lay down their weapons and abandon violence.

Her death should mark a new start for Northern Ireland, he said, adding he dared to hope it could be “the doorway to a new beginning”.

Both the prime minister and Jeremy Corbyn missed Prime Minister’s Questions to attend the funeral in Belfast.

Ms May spoke to Ms McKee’s partner, Sara Canning, and to her family before taking her place on the front row.

The Labour leader talked to both Mr Varadkar and later Ms Foster.

The Stormont assembly collapsed in January 2017 amid disagreements.

Fr Magill also addressed the dissidents who killed Ms McKee, saying: “To those still intent on violence, I ask you to listen to the majority of the people on your beloved island of Ireland who are calling on you to stop.”

There was applause from crowds outside St Anne’s Cathedral as the coffin was carried inside.

Journalists formed a guard of honour for their colleague murdered when a gunman opened fire in a street during disorder in the Creggan area.

Police believe the Derry violence had been orchestrated as trouble brewed over the anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Fr Magill appealed for anyone with information to tell police. “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’.”

Since the killing many had condemned the dissidents’ coercive control, the priest said.

He assured anyone with information for the police that special measures would protect them.

I encourage you to reflect on Lyra McKee as a powerful example of, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’

Father Martin Magill 

Ms May and Mr Varadkar stood together in silence as they waited with crowds outside after the service.

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

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

Agencies contributed to this report.

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