Belfast Telegraph

Alliance and UUP back call to restore devolution in wake of Lyra McKee killing

Children run past graffiti on a wall in the Creggan estate in Londonderry
Children run past graffiti on a wall in the Creggan estate in Londonderry
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The Ulster Unionists and Alliance have joined SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in a call to immediately restart talks to restore devolution following the killing of Lyra McKee.

Sinn Fein said that if justice was to be done to the memory of the 29-year-old journalist and LGBT campaigner, commitments made in previous agreements must be honoured.

The DUP said it was ready to restore devolution and blamed Sinn Fein for the stalemate.

Ms McKee was shot dead by a dissident republican gunman during street violence in Londonderry on Thursday night. Her funeral will take place in St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast tomorrow.

Mr Eastwood has written to the Prime Minister and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying that her death must be a turning point in Northern Ireland. Alliance leader Naomi Long said she fully supported his call for talks to be reconvened this week.

She revealed that she had written to Secretary of State Karen Bradley calling for the government to immediately move to begin negotiations.

"We owe it to Lyra and to all the other children of the Good Friday Agreement generation to offer an alternative to this descent into violence," Mrs Long told the Secretary of State.

"Whilst the signal sent by all the party leaders uniting in condemnation of the killing is welcome, unless we now also unite in action to deliver an alternative - functioning politics - it will have been in vain.

"Lyra was a bright light in our community and that light has now been cruelly and tragically snuffed out by those with nothing to offer this community but more pain, more anguish, more bereaved families, and more young lives lost."

The Alliance leader added: "We owe it to Lyra and to all the other children of the Good Friday Agreement generation to offer an alternative to this descent into violence."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann revealed he had written to Theresa May asking her to intervene and restore all-party talks.

He said: "We can't allow either local government or European election campaigns to stall the process any further and any party who wishes to exclude themselves shouldn't be allowed to hold the rest of us back."

A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: "The British Government's pact with the DUP and the ongoing denial of basic rights, including the rights of the LGBT community, is the cause of the current political impasse.

"The current stalemate cannot continue. Our peace process cannot be taken for granted. It must be nurtured and built upon.

"The Good Friday Agreement belongs to all the people of this island. If we are to do justice to the memory of Lyra McKee and all victims, then commitments made in agreements must be honoured."

The DUP accused Sinn Fein of collapsing the Assembly because it would not agree to a "gold-plated Irish Language Act".

A party spokesman said: "We would restore devolution tomorrow without preconditions. Four of the five main parties in Northern Ireland share our position. Sinn Fein alone stands as the barrier to a devolved government."

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists welcomed a call from writer Martin Dillon for a "Lyra McKee Law" to "penalise those who demonstrate, advocate or raise money for any organisation whose aim is to effect political change through the pursuit of violence".

Mr Swann said: "This is a very sensible suggestion from Martin Dillon and it would be a fitting tribute to Lyra McKee.

"For too long the cult of the gunman has been romanticised down through the years.

"Terrorist godfathers have been allowed to groom young men and women in the ways of the past in the same way that Isis radicalises people to jihad. It has cost Lyra McKee her life.

"We should do everything we can to prevent this happening in the future and this would be a huge step in the right direction."

The Alliance Party called for "a review of terrorism legislation and how it can be applied in the changing context of Northern Ireland".

A party spokesperson said: "The starting point needs to be consideration of the existing law in which it is already an offence to solicit support for a proscribed organisation and to explore if there are deficiencies in its scope, barriers to its effectiveness or a reluctance to use it."

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