Belfast Telegraph

Lyra McKee murder: Make death a turning point for Stormont ,says SDLP leader

Plea: Colum Eastwood
Plea: Colum Eastwood

By Michael McHugh

Talks to restore Stormont power-sharing should begin immediately following Lyra McKee's murder, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said.

Mr Eastwood has written to Leo Varadkar and Theresa May following the death of the journalist on Thursday night.

He said a clear message had been sent to the gunmen from communities in the Creggan estate where the killing occurred and across Ireland.

"There is an unmistakable public desire that the tragic and terrible loss of Lyra McKee marks a turning point for our peace and political process," Mr Eastwood said.

"I am therefore writing to all party leaders and to the two Governments to urge that talks are convened this week in order to finally restore government in Northern Ireland.

"On the streets of Creggan, in Derry and across Ireland a clear and resolute message has been sent to Lyra's killers and to all of those still wedded to the futility of violence.

"They are the enemies of all of us on this island and enemies of the shared future we have all chosen to build."

DUP leader Arlene Foster and her Sinn Fein counterpart Mary Lou McDonald together attended a vigil in the Creggan in the hours after the killing.

They have not held political talks for months amid deep differences surrounding issues like the place of the Irish language.

Sinn Fein is opposed to returning to devolved Government until disputes like that over the ban on same-sex marriage here are addressed.

Mr Eastwood said the aftermath of Lyra's murder gave a simple and direct message to political leaders to resolve their differences and get back to work.

It is 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement, but the Foyle MLA said people had become far too casual about the risk posed by political vacuum.

He added: "We have too easily forgotten that failure in our politics always results in danger in our streets.

"We have been far too ready to disagree with one another and not ready enough to value and build upon the peace we inherited.

"As political leaders, we are responsible for the context of political division which has let all of our people down. We can't allow it to go on."

Mr Eastwood said reform of the petition of concern, which allows a veto on contentious legislation, was central to unlocking the impasse and claimed there was a lack of political courage and will to do a deal.

While the parties are preparing for council and European elections next month, the SDLP leader said that excuse should be removed.

He added: "The public expect us to go back to work and they expect us to form a government, campaigning for any election can't get in the way of that fundamental responsibility.

"We have to stop failing and we need to start talking."

A UK Government spokesperson said: "The Government's first priority is the restoration of the devolved institutions at Stormont.

"We will be maintaining and building contact with the political parties over the coming days and weeks as we continue in our efforts to get back round the table."

Speaking in Derry yesterday, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill urged those involved in violence to disband.

Addressing an Easter Rising commemoration at the City Cemetery, she said: "To those young people circling these people consider what type of future you want for your kids and grandkids - there are two futures on offer - one of peace, opportunity and Irish reunification.

"Or one of death, imprisonment which serves no cause, community or people.

"Ask yourself what type of life and what type of Ireland do you want to be part of?

"It is high time these people disbanded and ended their futile actions, which are a barrier to achieving Irish unity."

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