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'Why in God's name': Priest gets standing ovation at slain journalist Lyra McKee's funeral

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Leaders from across Northern Ireland's political divide have sat side by side along with the British and Irish prime ministers at Lyra McKee's funeral.

The leaders of Britain and Ireland have joined hundreds of mourners at the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed by an Irish nationalist militant during a riot.

Leaders from across Northern Ireland's political divide sat side by side along with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and senior members of his government in McKee's native Belfast on Wednesday.

McKee was remembered as a "talented and fearless young woman" who broke down barriers.

A mourner wearing a Gryffindor scarf holds an order of service as she arrives for the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee.
A mourner wearing a Gryffindor scarf holds an order of service as she arrives for the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee.
PA

The New IRA group, which opposes Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, has said one of its members shot the 29-year-old journalist dead in Londonderry on Thursday when opening fire on police officers during a riot McKee was watching. The group has not identified the shooter.

"In death Lyra has united people of many different backgrounds," Roman Catholic Father Martin Magill told the multicultural, cross-community service, pleading with those behind her murder to take the road of non-violence.

Prime Minister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service.
Prime Minister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service.
PA Wire

"I ask you to listen to the majority of the people on your beloved island of Ireland who are calling on you to stop," he said.

"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 us to this point?" Magill added, addressing the politicians with a challenge that received a spontaneous standing ovation in the church.

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The 1998 peace agreement ended nearly three decades of "The Troubles" - hostilities between mainly Protestant supporters of continued British rule of the province and mainly Catholic proponents of unification with the Irish Republic.

Northern Ireland journalist Lyra McKee
Journalist Lyra McKee.
AAP

McKee's family described the writer and gay rights activist as a smart, strong-minded woman who believed passionately in justice, inclusivity and truth, and would not wish ill on anyone. 

Mourners embrace at the funeral.
Mourners embrace at the funeral.
PA Wire

'Pointless and futile act'

Representatives from Northern Ireland's six main political parties issued a rare joint statement in condemnation of the killing.

"It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere," the statement said.

Britain's minister for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley called Ms McKee a "young, vibrant woman who symbolised the new Northern Ireland".

"Our lasting tribute to Lyra will be to ensure that we continue to work for peace for the whole of Northern Ireland," she told MPs on Tuesday.

Ms McKee's family said it understood the anger over her murder, but urged people to respond with "positivity and hope".

"Lyra's answer would have been simple - the only way to overcome hatred and intolerance is with love, understanding and kindness," they said.

'No appetite for violence'

The New IRA offered its "full and sincere apologies" for Ms McKee's death, saying she was unintentionally shot as their forces targeted police.

The splinter group seeks the integration of the British province of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland - rejecting mainstream non-violent political campaigns to achieve that end.

The group has been condemned by Republican leaders, with Sinn Fein head Mary Lou McDonald saying it was "tiny, unrepresentative group" that was "essentially at war now with their own community".

"There's no appetite whatsoever in Creggan (the area where Ms McKee was killed), in Derry, anywhere across nationalist Ireland for a return to conflict," she told BBC radio.

Police in Northern Ireland said on Tuesday that a 57-year-old woman had been arrested under the Terrorism Act in connection with the killing.

Two men aged 18 and 19 who were arrested earlier in the investigation have now been released without charge.

People hold candles during a vigil at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered journalist Lyra McKee.
People hold candles during a vigil at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered journalist Lyra McKee.
AAP

Ms McKee's killing follows a spate of letter bombings and a car bombing, also claimed by the New IRA. 

It has fuelled fears that the political turbulence over Brexit, which threatens new border checkpoints between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, may increase paramilitary activity.

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