Tuesday 17 September 2019

Lyra's legacy: 'We owe it to her to restore government'

Lyra McKee: The young journalist was laid to rest on Wednesday. Picture: PA
Lyra McKee: The young journalist was laid to rest on Wednesday. Picture: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Northern Ireland’s politicians owe it to Lyra McKee’s mother “to make sure that no other ceasefire babies are murdered”, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

As all sides prepare for talks on re-establishing power-sharing after 830 days, Mr Coveney has revealed details of an emotional meeting between the most powerful politicians from Ireland and the UK and a devastated Joan McKee.

“Despite all the power of those elected offices we were standing there as a group that was utterly powerless to comfort a woman who had, as Joan put it, ‘lost her baby’,” he said.

Writing in the Irish Independent, Mr Coveney challenges leaders on all sides to ensure Lyra’s legacy is honoured and Northern Ireland has a functioning government.

It comes after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May set the end of May as a target for progress in the talks and called for “actions and not just words”. While Sinn Féin and the DUP have indicated a willingness to participate in the process they remain divided on key issues.

The announcement of renewed efforts to restore the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly comes just days after Ms McKee's funeral.

She was gunned down by the New IRA as she observed rioting in Derry's Creggan estate on April 18.

In an emotive article, Mr Coveney has said: "We owe it to Joan and Lyra McKee to make sure no other ceasefire babies are murdered in the prime of their lives and to make sure that Northern Ireland has a functioning government.

"There is never a perfect time to do the right thing in Northern Ireland. However, there is a right time and that time is now," Mr Coveney says.

The Tánaiste also describes how he felt as Fr Martin Magill challenged the political classes during the young journalist's funeral in Belfast on Wednesday.

The priests' eulogy has made headlines around the world and could be a defining moment in the efforts to prevent a return to the dark days of violence in the North.

"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?" he asked.

Mr Coveney said: "As a politician and Tánaiste there are many things you experience that are unique but there are only a handful of experiences that you know will stay with you until the end of your days.

"Being in the front pews of St Anne's Cathedral as an unstoppable wave of applause, hope and demand hit the most senior politicians from the UK and Ireland in the base of our spines is one such moment I will never forget," he added.

He said the words of Fr Magill "summed up the desire and frustration of all communities in Northern Ireland in a sentence".

Mr Coveney also praised the PSNI officers who desperately tried to save Lyra's McKee's life.

He said: "Despite their Land Rovers being alight with petrol and live ammunition being fired at them, the PSNI left their secure position to get to Lyra McKee after she had been hit."

He said they drove her to hospital and performed CPR and the leadership shown by the PSNI in Derry has "rightly been applauded by the community they serve".

Mr Coveney and British Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley announced the fresh talks involving both governments and all of the main parties in the North are to begin on May 7.

It is hoped a deal can be reached to restore power-sharing by mid-summer, ahead of the annual marching season flashpoint in the North.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she hoped the talks would be the vehicle for progress to be made. But she said "equality issues" still needed to be addressed and whether or not there was a "real will" to do this would "become apparent very quickly".

Her party has clashed with the DUP over an Irish Language Act for the North and the rival party's opposition to same-sex marriage.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, meanwhile, said her party "will not be found wanting in any talks process".

She said her preference would be for the Assembly to be restored and have the talks process in parallel, a proposal that Sinn Féin has rejected.

Irish Independent

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