Like so many others who joined the congregation at St Anne’s for the celebration of Lyra McKee’s tragically shortened life,I found myself pondering on the events of yesterday as well as the realities of this new day.
For Lyra’s family and her partner Sara, who carried their grief with such dignity, there will be the tragic reality of their very personal loss. We must all be aware of this and “tread softly” as we allow them space to grieve in the privacy of their home and family circle.
For the brave women in the Creggan there remains the reality of the presence and the threat of the Republican dissidents who have claimed responsibility for Lyra’s death and have so openly exploited the vulnerable and disaffected young people of this and other areas. This is a reality which neither they nor we can ignore. These courageous mothers and grandmothers have already demonstrated their repulsion and rejection of the activities pf the New IRA and their fellow-travellers. We must not leave it to them to cope with this reality alone. While it will be pressure from within the Nationalist community that will carry most weight there is a responsibility upon all of us to stand solidly with them in our unequivocal rejection of all and any use of violence, from whatever quarter, in the pursuit of political objectives. That day has gone. This is what we agreed in the Good Friday Agreement and nothing but nothing must be allowed to undermine that which was the clear commitment of the vast majority of the people across this island.
The third reality to which we awoke this morning is the political reality of which Father Martin Magill spoke so clearly to the extraordinarily ‘power-packed’ front pews in the Cathedral – and which was so clearly endorsed by the spontaneous and prolonged applause. Where else have we seen a gathering of the political leadership of Britain and Ireland and Northern Ireland in one place at one moment of time? Not to have addressed them as Father Martin did would have been rightly dismissed as a missed opportunity and an abrogation of pastoral responsibility. To those who have suggested that it was an inappropriate use of the pulpit let us remember how he phrased his heart- felt appeal – “In God’s name I ask you … ” This is the role and responsibility of the preacher, to speak on behalf of the God of truth and compassion who constantly calls us to find a new and better way of sharing life on this good earth. Yesterday was not a day for the preacher to hide behind pious platitudes.
The issue is not what or how the preacher may have worded his challenge. The question is – did those in the front pews hear him ?
Did they hear the voice of the people in that spontaneous response from one of the most diverse and representative gatherings I personally have ever witnessed?
If so, what is to be their response?
To any of us who have lived through these troubled years the political realities and options are very clear.This is not to say that we either expect or wish for a “quick fix” with a short-shelf-life.
Save us from that. We have been there before and have no desire for another false start.
What we do have is a right to demand from those whom WE have placed in their positions of political privilege and responsibility is that they openly, honestly and urgently sit together and take whatever time may be necessary to resolve the issues which THEY have allowed to put on hold and threaten the viability of the institutions which, though not perfect, have served us much better than the political void in which we now find ourselves. As in any situation of intractable disagreement they would be well advised to secure the services of an international and clearly independent facilitator to sit with them. This would be a sign of strength, not of weakness.
Out of the personal pain of yesterday and the realities to which we awoke this morning there comes yet another precious moment of opportunity. Yes, we have been there many times before, remembering Enniskillen, Omagh and Bloody Sunday to mention but a few, opportunities which have been squandered. We should have learned by now that missed opportunities cost lives. Surely, surely we can’t squander yet another! The young people in the Cathedral and the generation they represent will not easily forgive us if we do. Yes if WE do ! Let us not leave it to politicians to struggle on their own. All of us have responsibility to share. Those in the business life, the church life, the media – whatever and wherever – we all have something more positive to contribute than the tired old excuses that we continually make to justify our lack of imaginative and courageous initiative. Yes of course we are tired …. but listen to the preacher ! “In God’s name, are we going to wait until there is the death of another Lyra?”