Priest urges politicians to ‘grasp this opportunity’

Fr Martin McGill urged political leaders to grasp the opportunity. Credit: UTV

The priest who challenged politicians at the funeral of Lyra McKee says he hopes they will now grasp the opportunity for fresh talks.

Fr Martin Magill received a standing ovation when he asked why it had taken the 29-year-old journalist’s death to unite Northern Ireland’s political leaders.

Since then, an agreement has been reached to establish a new round of negotiations aimed at restoring devolution.

The process will get underway on 7 May.

“Let’s give them credit, they’ve responded, they’ve responded very well,” Fr Martin Magill told UTV on Sunday.

“We’ve an opportunity and I desperately want us to grasp it.”

He added that he was “taken aback completely” by the reaction he received, but believes he voiced what many people were thinking.

“I have never experienced anything like that before - people don’t applaud during my sermons, but that’s okay,” Fr Martin Magill went on.

“So there was a stage when that happened, I really wasn’t looking at anyone, I was looking at my text, I was conscious that I want this to go well for Lyra’s family.

“There were people coming up and thanking me for it.

“Now, with some time to reflect, I think that question voiced what a lot of people were actually thinking. I didn’t realise at the time but there was a frustration in my voice that I didn’t know was there and on some unconscious level I was expressing something.”

Northern Ireland has been without an Assembly and Executive since January 2017.

A joint statement from the British and Irish governments on Friday said they have agreed to a new talks process involving “all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the UK and Irish Governments, in accordance with the three stranded process”.

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

Fr McGill said he believes we "owe it to all the families that have lost loved ones" to make the most of this opportunity.

"The response I've got, it's by no means a Catholic response, or nationalist or republican response, this is right across the community," he said.

"It's resonating with people that we want something different."