Friday 23 August 2019

'Listen to the people, they need leadership' - priest who got ovation at Lyra's funeral

Father Magill
Father Magill

Claire McNeilly

The priest who got a standing ovation during Lyra McKee's funeral has followed up his powerful words by urging Northern Ireland's politicians to "listen to the people".

After yesterday's announcement of a new attempt at restoring devolution, Fr Martin Magill said there now exists an opportunity for political opponents to bury their differences for the common good.

Fr Magill's rousing reflection at St Anne's Cathedral during the service of thanksgiving for the life of the murdered journalist brought mourners to their feet, drew applause from both inside and outside the church and is widely believed to have hastened the latest talks, which are due to begin early next month.

The 57-year-old parish priest's heartfelt plea - "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?" - made headlines throughout the world.

In an interview yesterday, Fr Magill said now was the time for local politicians to heed public opinion and grasp the initiative.

"Listen to the frustration and build on the relationships that are there," said Fr Magill, who was a good friend of the writer and LGBT rights campaigner shot dead by the New IRA during riots in Derry 10 days ago.

"Look for the bigger picture. Look beyond party politics to the common good and think about those areas of Northern Ireland that haven't benefited from the peace process and those people who haven't felt the values and the benefits of where we've got to 21 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Think about the poverty, the deprivation, the issues of mental health as well as the other issues they're dealing with. Listen to the people."

Fr Magill said he never expected such a reaction to his powerful reflection - which high-profile Methodist minister Harold Good helped advise on - at the interdenominational service on Wednesday afternoon.

"It was the response to the question that gave it the power, the legs and the energy," he said.

"It struck me that the people in the cathedral brought the politicians to their feet rather than my question.

"At the end of the day the politicians are the servants of the people and it's clear the people want movement and they got movement - and that's the way it should be."

The popular cleric and community leader also said he had received a phone call from DUP leader Arlene Foster on Wednesday evening after the funeral, revealing that they had "a very gracious conversation", while he also shared a friendly exchange with Ms McDonald earlier in the day.

Referring to being unable to finish the central question until the applause stopped and people sat down again, Fr Magill said he sensed he had "unwittingly tapped into something and people responded".

"People started to clap and then stand up. I didn't see it coming and I didn't expect that," he said.

"What's very clear to me now is that people are looking for leadership.

"They desperately need leadership."

Irish Independent

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