Friday 24 May 2019

Lyra's generation do not need guns put in their hands - priest's message

Leaders join mourners in packed Belfast cathedral

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins attend Lyra McKee's funeral yesterday. Photo: Brian Lawless/Pool via REUTERS
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins attend Lyra McKee's funeral yesterday. Photo: Brian Lawless/Pool via REUTERS
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Lyra McKee's murderer is still at large today and the Northern Ireland Assembly is closed but neither should remain that way for long, her funeral heard yesterday.

Hundreds of mourners who packed into St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast were told the future is enviable if communities and politicians are willing to make change.

The public line the streets as Ms McKee's family and partner Sara Canning follow the cortège. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The public line the streets as Ms McKee's family and partner Sara Canning follow the cortège. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Fr Martin Magill said there is a new generation that "don't need guns put in their hands", adding: "We don't need any more innocent blood to be shed."

He commended political leaders for standing together in Derry since the tragedy.

But the priest said he found himself 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 to get us to this point?"

Loud and sustained applause rang through the packed cathedral before rippling out into the streets where hundreds more gathered to grieve with Lyra's family.

DUP leader Arlene Foster sits with Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
DUP leader Arlene Foster sits with Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The chief mourners were her mother Joan, partner Sara Canning, brothers Gary and David and sisters Joan, Nichola and Mary.

President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and senior figures from Northern Ireland's political parties, including the DUP's Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, attended the ceremony.

Members of the LGBT community and the National Union of Journalists were also represented.

Some wore 'Team Lyra' T-shirts and scarves from the Harry Potter series.

Fr Magill told the interfaith ceremony he has "no idea" what Lyra's partner Sara must have felt last Thursday night when the shots rang out in the Creggan area of Derry.

"I can't begin to imagine what you, Lyra's mum, and you her sisters and brothers must have gone through when Sara phoned to tell you Lyra had been shot," he said.

Fr Magill paid tribute to the "courage and determination" of the women who "in a very powerful gesture of non-violence" placed their hands in blood red paint on a wall outside dissident group Saoradh's offices in the days afterwards.

He begged communities to turn their back on old rules which suggested you are a tout for talking to police.

"But that was one of a number of rules - rules that also said it was OK to brutalise children for petty crimes, or rules that say you can live in the locality until you are told you can't or rules that said the only way we could gain 'freedom' was by other fellow human beings losing their lives.

"But this week I have seen these rules turned on their head. I have seen many people stand up and condemn this culture of violence and coercive control. We need to send a very different message and so I appeal to those who have information about Lyra's murder but who haven't yet come forward to do so now," Fr Magill told the congregation.

He said the media, which Lyra was so proud to be part of, must report on what is being done in estates like Creggan.

"Praise good work where you find it and report when it is not happening," he said.

In an unusual move, the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton spoke to reporters outside the cathedral just minutes after the hearse carrying Lyra's coffin had departed.

He said political leaders need to "step up and take advantage of these tragic circumstances".

"Over 140 have come forward to provide video footage and witness accounts. We need more of that. We believe this murder is absolutely solvable," he said.

The police chief spoke of "unique circumstances" since the killing in Derry which have led to "a groundswell of opinion away from violence, towards law and order and supporting the police in a way that has not always happened in the past".

He promised his officers will not be reckless with any information provided by the public.

"This isn't about being an informant or grassing someone up. This is about good citizenship. It's about respect for the rule of law," he said.

Irish Independent

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