A priest at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee asked “why in God’s name” it took her murder to unite politicians in the region.
Fr Martin Magill, a friend of McKee and of her north Belfast family, was delivering the homily at her funeral service in St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Belfast on Wednesday when he made the comments.
The 29-year-old was killed last week by suspected New IRA dissident extremists amid riots in Northern Ireland.
“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?” Fr Martin Magill asked.
The mourners at the funeral are McKee’s mother Joan, her partner Sara Canning, her sisters Joan, Nichola and Mary, brothers Gary and David, nieces and nephews and a great-niece Ava
Some hundreds of people gathered outside St Anne’s clapped in solidarity as the coffin was carried into the cathedral. The wreaths at the funeral included a heart of pink and white flowers and those in the rainbow colours of the LGBT community.
The funeral attendance included President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the British prime minister Theresa May, the Northern Secretary Karen Bradley, the British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, DUP leader Arlene Foster, Sinn Féin leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill, and local Northern Ireland politicians and other prominent figures.
Fr Magill spoke about Lyra’s warmth, her love of her family, of writing, of Harry Potter, of her “determined doggedness”, and of her love of life and fun. Fr Magill also had some stern words for her New IRA killers and also for politicians who have contributed to the political paralysis – a political vacuum – in Northern Ireland.
“Many of us will be praying that Lyra’s death in its own way will not have been in vain and will contribute in some way to building peace here. Since Thursday night we have seen the coming together of many people in various places and the unifying of the community against violence,” said Fr Magill.
“I commend our political leaders for standing together in Creggan on Good Friday. I am however 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?” he said, adding that he hopes her murder can be “the doorway to a new beginning. I detect a deep desire for this.”
McKee, who had written for The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News among other publications, was an editor with Mediagazer, a California-based trade publication covering the media industry. Named by Forbes’ magazine as one of its “30 under 30” notable media figures, she was seen as a rising star in journalism.
Her work examined the fallout of decades of violence in Northern Ireland, and she was described by literary figures as a rising star of investigative journalism in an announcement of a publishing deal last year.
“To those still intent on violence, I ask you to listen to the majority of the people on your beloved island of Ireland who are calling on you to stop,” Fr Magill said.
A friend told mourners at her funeral that Ms McKee revealed her plans to propose to her partner Sara just hours before she was murdered.
Stephen Lusty said she showed him pictures of the engagement ring.
Fr Magill spoke of local deprivation and how young people need jobs, and education and training to avoid radicalisation.
Addressing politicians again, he said: “When it comes to our peace process, I would love to see this dogged attitude to the rebuilding of an 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.”
Ahead of the funeral, McKee’s family spoke of her as a strong woman with a “warm and innocent heart” and how they hoped her life “overcoming hatred and intolerance with love, understanding and kindness” would serve as an example to others.