Politicians must take inspiration from Lyra McKee, says Bradley as talks planned

Political leaders must take inspiration from murdered journalist Lyra McKee to make Northern Ireland a brighter and more peaceful place, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has said.

It comes after the British and Irish governments confirmed a new round of political talks aimed at re-establishing devolved powersharing in Northern Ireland.

It was confirmed that talks on the restoration of powersharing institutions will resume on May 7 and all the main parties will be invited.

Earlier this week, political leaders attended the funeral of Ms McKee in Belfast.

The order of service at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee
The order of service at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee (Liam McBurney/PA)

At her funeral, Catholic peacemaking priest Father Martin Magill challenged politicians as to why it had taken the death of the 29-year-old, who was shot by dissident republicans, to unite them.

Ms Bradley described her murder as a “sickening attack”, adding that communities in Northern Ireland and political parties have come together to condemn the shooting.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, Ms Bradley said: “Lyra was a role model to many and always fought to make Northern Ireland a better place.

“Lyra symbolised the new Northern Ireland and her tragic death cannot be in vain.

“All of us must take inspiration from what Lyra achieved in her life and work to make Northern Ireland a brighter, more peaceful and prosperous place for everyone.

“My absolute determination is to see the restoration of all the political institutions established by the 1998 (Belfast) Agreement.”

The institutions have been suspended for more than two years following a row between former governing partners the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Endless rounds of negotiations failed to break the deadlock.

Sinn Fein has rejected DUP leader Arlene Foster’s latest offer to break the political impasse in Northern Ireland.

Mr Coveney said: “These few days belong to Lyra, her partner Sara, her family, friends and the people who loved her.

“We mourn with them and grieve for the life and career that was cut short so brutally and needlessly.

Simon Coveney and Karen Bradley arrive for a press conference at Stormont in Belfast
Simon Coveney and Karen Bradley arrive for a press conference at Stormont in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

“She was a brave, bright and brilliant person who exemplified the spirit of what we need today.

“Her ambition to change her society for the better through her career and telling her own story and supporting others to do the same could not stand in starker contrast with the people who took weapons on to the streets of Derry with callous disregard for human life, to intimidate, injure and kill.”

Mrs Bradley said the talks offer the “chance to move forward” to restore the political institutions.

“We have a narrow window in which genuine progress can be made and we must act now,” she added.

Mr Coveney also urged young Catholics to join and support the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), saying it “takes real courage to transform your community despite often intimidating circumstances”.

He said: “They know that communities have to be able to see themselves in the communities they’re working with.

“If you want to show your support for a better future, show your support for the police.

“Support young people who are brave enough to consider joining that police force.”

In a direct message to dissident republicans, he said: “They are a small minority who try to control communities through fear and intimidation and twisted, warped thinking.

“They are not protecting communities, they are endangering them.”

Mr Coveney said there was an “urgent need for positive and determined action” because “we are leaving far too much wide open space for other kinds of voices that don’t believe in democracy but that peddle hate and fear”.

He said the British-Irish Council would convene on May 8, the day after fresh talks on powersharing begin.

Mr Coveney added: “I think what every decent-thinking person in Northern Ireland wants now is to see us take that spark of determination that I think we have all felt in the last few days and to see if we can build a momentum from that to do something real and positive.”

Asked how confident she was that the fresh round of talks would succeed, Mrs Bradley said: “I think what we saw this time last week – with the party leaders coming together, going to the Creggan estate, standing united, putting out a joint statement – really gives me a clear indication that the party leaders do want to do this.

“We are very realistic about what’s going to be involved and what’s going to be needed. It isn’t going to be easy, but I am absolutely determined – as is Simon – that we will make a success of this.

“I truly believe, from my conversations with the leaders this week, that they agree with that.”

Mr Coveney added: “I think it’s different this time. I think there’s a real understanding that Northern Ireland desperately needs its own government right now.”

He said that Northern Irish people could see that “the ordinary day-to-day stuff of politics is not working”.

“People are saying, ‘Enough. Do your job. Establish Stormont in a way that will allow it to work again through an executive that hopefully involves all parties’,” he added.

Earlier, Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “We also heard the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress.

Leo Varadkar and Theresa May after the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast
Leo Varadkar and Theresa May after the funeral of Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We agree that what is now needed is actions and not just words from all of us who are in positions of leadership.

“We have agreed to establish a new process of political talks, involving all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the UK and Irish governments, in accordance with the three-stranded process.

“The aim of these talks is quickly to re-establish to full operation the democratic institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement – the Northern Ireland Executive, Assembly and North-South Ministerial Council – so that they can effectively serve all of the people for the future.”

The Prime Minister and Taoiseach added: “We understand the complexity of the underlying concerns of all parties, and the need for renewed trust, mutual respect, generosity and new thinking to resolve the issues.

“As Prime Minister and Taoiseach, we are determined to work together to ensure this process comes to a successful conclusion.”

They will review progress at the end of May.

The pair also agreed that there should be a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference during the same period.

The conference will consider East/West relations, security co-operation, and political stability in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster wants a twin-track approach where the devolved institutions are restored quickly to deal with issues such as running the health service, while a separate process addresses disagreements like that over same-sex marriage.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill has rejected that and said issues such as marriage equality and protection for the Irish language need to be delivered to pave the way for restoration of the devolved institutions.

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