Saturday 25 May 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'United only in grief, North's politicians are still miles apart'


The DUP's Arlene Foster (left) with Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Pool via REUTERS
The DUP's Arlene Foster (left) with Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Pool via REUTERS
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Politicians from both sides who attended the celebration of Lyra McKee's life seemed genuinely upset.

How could they not be? A life lost needlessly. Perhaps even because of the collective intransigence that infected Northern Ireland's so-called leaders.

There were three rows of the political elite. The Taoiseach and British prime minister at the front, ministers from the Irish and UK government next and then those most closely associated with Stormont.

The DUP's Arlene Foster was placed beside Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill. The latter two were in place first and just about managed to exchange courtesies when Ms Foster arrived. They simply couldn't hide the strain.

Everybody was glad when the friendly face of the Scottish MP Ian Blackford arrived to act as a mutual distraction.

For their part, Leo Varadkar and Theresa May put on a very unified front. The pair met in a room behind the sacristy so that they could be seen walking into the main body of the cathedral together. United in grief for Northern Ireland.

What would Lyra have made of it all, her sister Nichola wondered. She had "left such a lasting mark on the world".

But one also wonders what would Lyra herself have said to the politicians who sit at her funeral but sit out their day-to-day responsibilities.

Her friend Fr Martin Magill did his best to speak for a journalistic voice that has been silenced.

"To the many politicians present in this cathedral today, let me say again those words which one of Lyra's friends had said: 'the younger generation need jobs, they need a better health service and education. They need a life, not a gun put in their hands'," he said.

He urged them to doggedly pursue the re-establishment of the Assembly "that works for the common good".

"As I listen to the radio every morning, all I seem to hear about various initiatives in Northern Ireland are these words, 'without a minister, this can't be taken forward'.

"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," Fr Magill said.

Nobody disagreed - but the real question is what are they going to do about it?

There's no suggestion that the DUP and Sinn Féin will enter meaningful talks amid local election tensions. Meanwhile, the SDLP and Alliance are trying to squeeze the UUP out of the European Parliament.

So for all the talk, progress will be slow. And that allows for the fade factor to kick in.

Varadkar and May walked stride by stride out of St Anne's Cathedral in a symbolic gesture for the dozens of waiting cameras. McDonald and Foster left separately.

We can only hope they listened to the words of Lyra's sister and realise it's time "to get to work".

Irish Independent

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