Belfast Telegraph

NIO slammed for 'appalling manipulation' of Lyra McKee family in Twitter Stormont campaign video

By Eimear McGovern

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) provoked a social media storm and was accused of the "appalling manipulation" of the family of murdered journalist Lyra McKee over a tweet campaigning for the return of Stormont.

Nichola Corner, the sister of Lyra McKee, appeared in an NIO video, which was uploaded just after 10am on Wednesday morning, saying her family is "determined" to ensure "no other person is killed within Northern Ireland" urging politicians to resurrect the dormant institutions.

The video was recorded on Tuesday and Ms Corner, its understood, was briefed on how it would be framed.

It comes after she spoke at the We Deserve Better rally on Sunday which called for power sharing to be restored on what was the 1,000th day without local government.

At that she said: "What will it take... are they waiting on another Omagh, another Shankill.

"Are they waiting on another murder? Because if our Lyra's life wasn't enough for them to get to work, I don't know what will."

She has campaigned for power sharing to be restored since her sister's death. The family has also been sending out postcards to MLAs to "get back to work for the good of all of the people in Northern Ireland".

In the NIO video she called for Northern Ireland politicians to restore devolved institutions now "because they are the people who have the power to make bigger changes".

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the government was aware that if Stormont was restored it would deny woman and gay people rights to abortion and marriage.

Lyra McKee

Lyra McKee (29) was shot dead in April as she observed disorder in Londonderry. Dissident republicans admitted responsibility. The immediate aftermath of the killing sparked a renewed round of talks in a bid to restore the devolved institutions.

Her family said her lasting legacy should be one of peace.

"For this to happen, our elected representatives must actively and meaningfully work to restore Northern Ireland's government," Nichola said last month.

In recent days there have been calls for power sharing to be restored in order to block the introduction of abortion reform. Should there be no resumption of devolution before Monday, abortion will be decriminalised and new laws introduced to allow for same-sex marriage.

Ms Corner said it was important the Executive was up and running and they were determined to ensure no one else was killed in Northern Ireland, in the NIO video.

"Since Lyra was killed, we have been suffering every single day," she said.

"It's important our Executive gets back up and running because they are the people who have the power to make bigger changes within our country that will benefit all the young people of Northern Ireland both now and in the future, in the hopes that we will evolve into a peaceful society where everyone is valued and everyone is safe every day of their lives."

Murdered journalist Lyra McKee and her partner Sara Canning

It was tagged: "Get Stormont up and running."

After it was posted a barrage of criticism was directed at the NIO. Thousands viewed the video and hundreds more reacted to it with many calling for it to be deleted.

Alliance leader Long said it was in poor taste.

"The NIO knows 'now' means denying both LGBTQ+ people and women their rights," she tweeted.

"This is an appalling manipulation of a family's grief.

"We're ready to restore an Assembly & Executive capable of delivering equality and human rights for all of our people."

Commentator Alex Kane described the tweet as "uncomfortable" viewing.

"With no disrespect to Lyra’s family or friends — I’m actually very uncomfortable with what strikes me as emotional manipulation of a very difficult situation by the NIO."

MLA Stewart Dickson called on whoever was behind the tweet at the NIO to "consider their position".

Public relations expert Ian Parsley added: "This tweet is in utterly appalling taste and must be removed instantly.

"If you can’t work out why, I really can’t help you."

On Tuesday, Arlene Foster backed a call from Baroness Nuala O'Loan to restore the Stormont Assembly before Monday.

The DUP leader said her party will be seeking a recall of the Assembly and urged other MLAs to support them. The Stormont Speaker - the DUP's Robin Newton, has the ability to recall the Assembly should 30 MLAs support it. However, in order to block the introduction of abortion reform the Executive would also need to be reformed and therefore Sinn Fein to get on board.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill described the DUP's manoeuvring to recall the Assembly as a "pointless political stunt".

Mrs Foster said: "Our MLAs will return to the chamber without pre-condition. There are serious matters emanating from the NI (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. These should be decisions made in Stormont.

"We urge other MLAs who oppose the extreme liberalisation of our abortion law to step outside any party shackles and join us in recalling the Assembly.

"It's time to get Northern Ireland moving again."

An intensive phase of talks aiming to restore power sharing is taking place this week and will be the last opportunity for parties to reach an agreement before the October deadline.

The NIO and representatives of the family of Lyra McKee have been approached for comment.

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