Belfast Telegraph

Saoradh invite call sparks walkout

Dialogue: Michael Culbert
Dialogue: Michael Culbert
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The partner of slain journalist Lyra McKee walked out of a heated panel discussion after a former IRA prisoner said that dissident republican group Saoradh should have been invited.

Saoradh is the political wing of the New IRA, which shot Ms McKee dead.

Michael Culbert, director of republican ex-prisoner support body Coiste Na nIarchimi, was speaking during the 'Having Difficult Conversations' event at the Glor Dhun Geimhin Centre in Dungiven, which was held as part of Lyra's Walk.

Speaking to the audience - which included Lyra's sister Nichola Corner and partner Sara Canning - Mr Culbert, who served 15 years in the Maze Prison for the murder of a policeman, said he felt that Saoradh should have been invited to take part.

Mr Culbert said he had "no regrets" and "asked for no one's forgiveness" for his past actions.

"Personally I would have loved them (Saoradh) to have been here for me to have been able to put my logic and my view on what they are doing," he said.

"They are the difficult conversations to have. To get these people to explain what they are doing and what their strategy is."

Lyra's partner Sara Canning walked out of the room with three friends as Mr Culbert spoke. They returned 10 minutes later when the PUP's William Ennis, a friend of Ms McKee, challenged Mr Culbert.

"Could it be that the reason young people in Creggan and arguably elsewhere feel the benefit of taking up guns (is) because at panel events people arrive who were involved in the past conflict and spend most of their dialogue trying to brag about their legitimacy?" he asked.

Mr Ennis' remarks were met with loud clapping from Ms Canning and Ms McKee's friends.

Ms Corner spoke from the audience to conclude the evening, thanking those who were "brave enough to listen to these difficult conversations".

"There has been a lot of difficult conversations here this evening and a lot of difficult stories shared," she said. "But I know that Lyra would have respected every single one of those stories. She may not have agreed with what everyone had to say but she certainly would have respected everyone's view."

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