Tuesday 20 August 2019

Editorial: 'Must it take Broken Hearts to Break new Ground?'

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Lyra McKee at her funeral at St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Lyra McKee at her funeral at St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne


For two-and-a-half years, politicians in the North and UK have gone unchallenged when it comes to justifying a yawning gap where political leadership should be.

It has taken the death of a brilliant young journalist, and the candour of a Catholic priest, to cut to the heart of this failure with one blunt question.

As the main political leaders in these islands came to celebrate the life of Lyra McKee, Fr Martin Magill welcomed an unprecedented coming-together across the divide in Creggan on Good Friday.

Among the exalted congregation yesterday were DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, side by side. There, too, was President Michael D Higgins, Leo Varadkar and Theresa May. As they sat in respectful silence, Fr Magill brought the roof down on Belfast's venerable St Anne's Cathedral, asking: "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?"

In a crescendo of thunderous applause, all were brought to their feet. If there is an opportunity to bring meaning to the brutal murder Lyra McKee, there is a massive moral imperative to seize it. Otherwise, the presence of so many powerful people, mingling among those who loved Lyra, will have served small purpose.

The North does not need another demonstration of impotency. It already has the shadow of the giant empty Palace of Stormont as a damning totem of inaction. But as another speaker, Stephen Lusty - a friend and former colleague of Lyra's -pointed out: we can focus on what might have been, or we can switch our concentration to what should be. With this in mind, Fr Magill suggested, Lyra's death might mark a new beginning.

He quoted her friends, reminding all: "We have had enough. There is a younger generation coming up in the town and they don't need guns put in their hands. They need jobs, they need a better health service and education. They need a life."

The politicians heard, but were they really listening? Time will tell.

Lyra once wrote how 4,500 people had died by suicide since the Good Friday Agreement. She noted: "It's the most tragic of ironies that 20 years of peace could rob us of more lives than 30 years of war did." And she made plain, with Stormont not in session, the strategy for preventing these deaths - called Protect Life 2 - was languishing in some civil servant's desk drawer.

We cannot always stop people doing monstrous things, especially if people act without asking questions, or under coercive control.

But history has also shown how monstrous things can also happen because people are not prepared to act. The North needs to deliver on the promise of lives like Lyra's.

Her murder requires more from political leaders than collective gasps of horror.

If we learned anything from the Troubles, it was that it ought not take broken hearts to break new political ground.

Irish Independent

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