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Priest demands to know why it took Lyra McKee's death to bring politicians together

A priest has questioned why it has taken the death of 29-year-old Lyra McKee to unite parties and bridge the political divide.

Speaking inside the 100-year-old St Anne's Cathedral in the centre of Belfast, Catholic priest Fr Martin Magill spoke directly to politicians at the funeral of Ms McKee.

In a rousing speech, he asked plainly: "Why does it take a 29-year-old's death to get to this point?"

The response from the congregation was a loud and sustained standing ovation - prompting even politicians to get to their feet.

The Protestant church and the Roman Catholic priest is further symbolic of people coming together.

Fr Martin Magill asked why it took the death of Ms McKee for politicians to come together.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Finn leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill sat side-by-side in the cathedral, as Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has said she intends to hold discussions with Stormont's party leaders this week in an effort to restore powersharing.

Ms McKee was killed last Thursday as she observed clashes between police and New IRA dissidents - the group has since said one of its '"volunteers" killed her.

The funeral for the murdered journalist was filled with memories and heart-felt anecdotes of the Harry Potter lover.

Hundreds were in attendance, with many wearing Harry Potter scarves and Marvel comic t-shirts, something Ms McKee "would love", her partner Sara Canning said.

Father Magill's powerful and poignant message has not fallen on deaf ears.

Immediately after the service the DUP's leader Arlene Foster arranged meetings separately with Ireland's foreign minister and the Northern Ireland secretary.

Thousands attended the funeral of the murdered journalist. Credit: PA

The DUP also released a statement on Wednesday evening calling for the immediate restoration of the Northern Ireland assembly.

Sinn Féin also called for the return of a Northern Ireland assembly but neither side has lifted their red lines which has kept them apart for more than two years.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Finn leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill sat side-by-side. Credit: PA

Stephen 'Uncle' Lusty paid tribute to his close friend in a frank and honest eulogy, describing her as "smart, kind, passionate, interesting, feisty, generous, funny and above all else, compassionate".

He revealed she had plans to propose to her partner and get married in Donegal in 2022 - a dream they were both tragically denied.

Mr Lusty said Ms MsKee had friends "from all walks of life, all shapes, all sizes, genders, interests and views were welcome".

"There were no formulas or tick-boxes in her world, you just needed to be a good person," he added.

"Lyra's not here in person but her starlight fills this room, she would be thrilled that all her friends could be in one place and they finally get to be connected."

Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney were among those who attended the service.

Female folk duo Saint Sister played the Cranberries song 'Dreams', now labelled a 'Derry Girls anthem' after its recent use in the hit Channel 4 show.

Ms McKee's sister, Nichola Corner, paid tribute to her beloved younger sibling and urged politicians to get back to work and create a society where labels become meaningless.

She shared vivid memories of her sister's younger years, affectionately describing her as the baby of the family.

The unconditional love shared between Lyra and her mother Joan was described as a love that "will continue despite the empty space that cannot be filled".

But she encouraged mourners to create the society "Lyra had envisioned."

"Within each of us, we have the power to create the kind of society that Lyra envisioned, one where labels are meaningless, one where every single person is valued, one where every single child gets the chance to grow up and to make their dreams come true," she said.

"In the word's of Lyra herself, we must change our own world one piece at a time. Now let's get to work."

Fr Magill hoped Ms McKee's murder on Holy Thursday was "the doorway to a new beginning" as he detected there was a "deep desire for this."

A mourner wearing a Gryffindor scarf holds an order of service. Credit: PA

Speaking directly to those responsible for her murder he said: "To those who had any part in her murder, I encourage you to reflect on Lyra McKee, journalist and writer, as a powerful example of 'The pen is mightier than the sword'.

"I plead with you to take the road of non-violence to achieve your political ends."

Sara Canning, Ms McKee's partner, outside St Anne's Cathedral after the service. Credit: PA

This sentiment was echoed by Chief Constable George Hamilton who urged anyone with information to come forward.

"She was a great person who worked hard to shine a light to recover truth, she cared passionately about issues and worked hard and with integrity and of course, that is in complete contrast, complete contrast to those people who came out of the shadows last Thursday night, fired shots towards police lines," Chief Constable Hamilton said.

Crowds lined the roads outside St Anne's Cathedral, in a death that has affected not only the Northern Irish community but has had a far reaching impact on the world and has the potential to reunite divided political leaders.