The funeral of the murdered journalist Lyra McKee – the first journalist to be shot and killed in the UK in 20 years – took place in Belfast on 24 April. It was attended by political leaders from Belfast, Dublin and London including Theresa May, the President of Ireland, the taoiseach (Irish prime minister) and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), sat beside Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill, the leaders of Sinn Féin.
A priest received a standing ovation at the funeral when he asked why it took her death to unite politicians.
Fr Martin Magill asked: “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?” He continued: “Many of us will be praying that Lyra’s death in its own way will not have been in vain and will contribute in some way to building peace here,” alluding to Northern Ireland’s political deadlock. “I dare to hope that Lyra’s murder on Holy Thursday night can be the doorway to a new beginning.”
About 600 people packed St Anne’s Cathedral, a Protestant cathedral, with hundreds more gathered outside for the funeral of the journalist, who was from a Catholic background. Her family chose the location due to its reputation as a “shared space” in a divided city. Fellow members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) formed a guard of honour at the cathedral.
The union described Lyra as “one of the most promising journalists” in Northern Ireland. Ciarán Ó Maoláin, the union’s Belfast secretary, described her as “intelligent, determined and very witty”.
On Thursday 18 April, journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead during rioting after violence broke out during police searches in Londonderry. A dissident republican paramilitary group, the New IRA, admitted responsibility for the murder in a statement released on 23 April and apologised, saying its gunman was aiming at police. Three people have been arrested over the shooting, but all have now been released without charge.
Lyra McKee had written for publications including Private Eye, the Atlantic, Mosaic Science and Mediagazer. She had also signed a two-book deal with the publisher Faber and Faber, with her forthcoming book The Lost Boys due out in 2020. Her most recent story, published on 21 April, was an analysis piece on the rising rate of young suicides since the ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement.
In it, she wrote: “People are no longer dying at the hands of paramilitaries, but they’re still dying, too young and too soon. The culprit now is suicide.”
In the House of Common on 23 April, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said there was nothing that could justify this “murderous act”.
“To those responsible for this act of terrorism, we say: ‘We have heard your excuses and your hollow apologies. No-one buys it. This was no accident’,” she added.
Lyra was standing near a police 4×4 vehicle when she was shot after a masked gunman fired towards police and onlookers.
Lyra’s partner Sara Canning said she had been left without “the love of my life”. Speaking at a vigil in Derry, she said the journalist’s dreams had been “snuffed out by a single barbaric act”.
The New IRA is believed to have been formed between 2011 and 2012. It followed the merger of a number of smaller groups, including the Real IRA, which itself was born out of a split in the mainstream Provisional IRA (PIRA) in October 1997 over Sinn Fein’s embrace of the peace process. The group has been linked with four murders.
The killing of Lyra comes 21 years after the Good Friday peace agreement was signed in Northern Ireland. The 1998 peace deal marked the end in the region of decades of violent conflict – known as the Troubles – involving republicans and loyalists during which about 3,600 people are estimated to have died.
The Good Friday Agreement was the result of intense negotiations involving the UK and Irish governments and Northern Ireland’s political parties.
Grief and outrage over the murder of Lyra McKee has sparked hopes there is now momentum to break the political deadlock in Northern Ireland, which has been without a functioning devolved government since January 2017, when the DUP and Sinn Féin split in a bitter row.