Editorial: ‘A moral duty in Northern Ireland’
The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Karen Bradley has said that the murder of Lyra McKee “cannot be in vain”. While the sentiment is understandable given the political circumstances in Northern Ireland since the collapse of the Northern Assembly more than two years ago, it also contains a discomfort which we cannot ignore.
At the ecumenical funeral service for Lyra, Fr Martin Magill, Lyra’s friend, was also correct and rightly praised for his denunciation from the altar of the political leaders in Northern Ireland and, indeed, the UK and Ireland, for failure to restore the Assembly. “Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?” he asked to a sustained ovation and applause from the congregation.
We concur. And yet we are left with that same sense of discomfort. The murder of Lyra McKee can not solely be taken as a stepping stone to the restoration of a form of normality in Northern Ireland, as so much cruelly inflicted death has been taken in the past. When or if the Assembly is eventually restored and politics resumes, and maybe even evolves, the partner, family and friends of Lyra will still hurt in their pain, still grieve for their loss. Politics will move on, but their world will stand still.
In the tortured history of Northern Ireland, 21 years after the hoped-for reconciliation of the Belfast Agreement, it should be no longer acceptable for murder and mayhem to be seized upon as a stimulus for political advancement, understandable though that desire may be.
To the thugs who murdered her, you are a disgrace to humankind. And yes, Lyra’s murder should not be in vain, and yes, her death in the vacuum of the failure of politics in Northern Ireland is a stain upon the entire body politic on these islands; but more than that, her death is and will remain a source of great pain and loss to be forever carried by those she loved and who loved her.
That reality should never be lost on our leaders or indeed on the public in general, in the urgency, the anxiety to fill the vacuum in Northern Ireland, to move on.
The political leaders in Northern Ireland, particularly those of the DUP and Sinn Fein, and throughout the UK and Ireland have a responsibility now not only to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly but to make it function for the people of the North, not least in the context of Brexit. The argument has been made, and again we concur, that that responsibility was essential long before now, before Lyra’s murder, before Brexit, before the imminent elections in Northern Ireland.
However, if the outrage over Lyra’s murder is to mean anything, however reluctantly we ascribe meaning to murder, it is that there is no longer merely a political responsibility on those leaders, but a profound moral duty, for they are no longer politicians in the ordinary sense but moral agents who must show themselves capable of acting with reference to right and wrong. Anything less is no longer acceptable.