Editor's Viewpoint: Lyra's funeral leaves our politicians in no doubt over their duty
Lyra McKee’s funeral in Belfast yesterday was like one accorded to a head of state. In attendance were the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition at Westminster, Northern Ireland’s party leaders, and the Republic’s President and Taoiseach.
St Anne’s Cathedral was packed to overflowing by people from all sections of the community, all faiths and none, and all sexual orientations.
Lyra was not just a 29-year-old journalist murdered by terrorists; she was an important voice for the ceasefire generation of young people.
She articulated their frustration that the promise of the Good Friday Agreement has not been delivered by the cynical and pained generations who lived through the Troubles and for whom the past is present every day.
And it was fitting that, although Lyra’s voice was stilled by a terrorist’s bullet just hours before Good Friday and the 21st anniversary of the signing of that accord, others took up her calls for a new beginning for a province still riven by divided loyalties and tribal politics.
Fr Martin Magill, a friend of Lyra, brought the congregation to its feet and sent a standing ovation rippling through the cathedral and out into the crowds packing the street with his direct challenge to the politicians: “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?”
The point may have been made many times in the past in other tragic circumstances, but this time the Northern Ireland party leaders were caught in the unwavering glare of the television cameras near the front pews and it was clear that the priest’s comments made uncomfortable listening.
How Lyra would have loved that moment. Her effervescent smile would have lit up the entire cathedral at the politicians’ unease.
But it was not just the politicians who Fr Magill challenged. He urged the New IRA to take the road of non-violence to seek its aims and asked it to listen to the majority of people on this island, who are calling on the group to stop its violence.
We can all play a part in making sure that happens.
As the Chief Constable pointed out, there has been unprecedented assistance from the public to police investigating the killing. More is needed.
The funeral, which lasted almost two hours, also touched on the qualities that made Lyra such a force of nature for one so young.
And it was evident that her Christian impulses of generosity towards others, supporting those suffering victimisation or discrimination or driven to suicidal despair, lit a torch that her legion of friends are determined to carry on.
The cynics among us who have seen hopes of a sea change in attitudes be dashed on the rocks of historic distrust may be confounded this time by the ceasefire generation, who want a better life and a more united Northern Ireland than we have yet managed to give them.
Two forthcoming elections will not create fertile ground for new seeds of hope to grow in the anticipated all-party talks aimed at restoring devolution, but even if the politicians cannot reach agreement willingly, perhaps they can be shamed into doing so.
However, we cannot lay the blame for Lyra’s death at politics. The New IRA was in existence when Stormont was functioning. What is certain is terrorism does not work, it leads to a coffin in someone’s front room, but rarely is that the terrorist’s own front room.