Young journalist shot dead in N.Ireland honoured at funeral

Telegram från AFP / Omni
24 april 2019, 14.43

The leaders of Britain and Ireland joined mourners from across Northern Ireland's political divide on Wednesday at the funeral of a young journalist killed by a dissident republican paramilitary group last week.

Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on Thursday as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second biggest city of the British province.

Dissident republican faction the New IRA claimed responsibility on Tuesday and apologised, saying the shots had been aimed at the police.

The killing evoked memories of the three decades of violent strife in Northern Ireland and sparked condemnation across the political spectrum also in the neighbouring Republic of Ireland.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar were among those who attended the ceremony, alongside the heads of the province's biggest unionist and nationalist political parties.

Britain's main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also missed weekly Prime Minister's Questions in parliament to travel to Belfast for the funeral at St Anne's Cathedral.

"In death, Lyra has united people of many different backgrounds," Father Martin Magill told those gathered in a poignant tribute to McKee.

"I pray that Lyra's murder may be the catalyst needed for parties to start talking, to reform that which was corrosive... and to begin anew," he said.

McKee established her career writing about so-called "ceasefire babies" -- the generation which came of age after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended the conflict known as "The Troubles".

She was also a passionate advocate for LGBT issues, and featured in the prestigious Forbes "30 under 30" list of rising stars in the media across Europe in 2016.

"Such a warm and innocent heart, she was the greatest listener, someone who had time for everyone," her family said in a statement.

"She was a smart, strong-minded woman who believed passionately in inclusivity, justice and truth."

McKee's coffin was driven in a procession from her family's home in north Belfast to the grand cathedral in the city centre, ahead of a private burial later on Wednesday.

Her partner Sara Canning had said the funeral would be a "celebration of her life", with guests invited to wear Harry Potter and Marvel superhero clothing in tribute to McKee's love of the franchises.

Crowds gathered outside, some holding the rainbow flags of gay pride others wearing Harry Potter scarves, broke into applause as her coffin was carried inside by six pallbearers.

Stephen Forde, the Dean of Belfast, opened the service -- which was aired live on television -- by commending McKee's work as a journalist.

"Lyra was a person who broke down barriers and reached across boundaries," he told the congregation.

Representatives from Northern Ireland's six main political parties all attended, having 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.

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

The New IRA offered its "full and sincere apologies" for 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".

Police in Northern Ireland said 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 been released without charge.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.