Last April I went to an event with George Mitchell, Tony Blair, Bertie Aherne, Bronagh Hinds, Seamus Mallon & others to mark 20 years since the signing of the Belfast/ Good Friday agreement. (I went looking for the blog post on it & discovered that I hadn’t written one, dammit. I’d forgotten how useful blogging is for capturing moments that would otherwise be lost.)
It was a reminder of the work it takes to build a foundation for peace. Nothing just happens- it takes commitment, time to listen & a determination to build trust and consensus. It’s not a job with regular hours, or annual leave.
As the peacemakers spoke, it was clear that our current generation of politicians have different priorities. Seamus Mallon was wonderfully scathing, but no I can’t give you an example because I didn’t write it down…
This year there was nothing good about the Friday before Easter. I woke up to the news that Lyra McKee had been killed by rioters in Derry. When I gathered myself, I found Girl2 watching Derry Girls- the episode finishing with Clinton’s Derry speech . The confluence had me in tears. The hope for the future we had was embodied in Lyra McKee.
Thousands of people were killed in “the troubles”. Too many have been killed during “the peace”. Ms McKee was a force of nature, a talented investigative journalist doing her job. I knew her only from Twitter, we had friends in common. I admired her work, her humour, how she knew everybody. There have been many stories of her generosity, curiosity and warmth.
But what’s different about Lyra McKee’s life and death has been the variety of people she touched. She was a child of our peace, someone who should never have known our violence, much less be killed by it. She was a powerful advocate. She embraced social media. She’d found her love and moved to be with her. She was fearless in her journalism & had a book ready for publication. For young people, for Belfast, for Derry, for writers, for women, for the curious, for LGBTIQ, for politically interested, for the lost, for so many people, Lyra was ‘one of us’.
Her murderers called her death a ‘tragic accident’ & said their volunteers would be more careful in future.
The reaction to her murder has been incredible. Her friends used paint to mark red, as bloodied, hands over the building used by the dissident republican group. Such disregard for the big boys. Such courage.
The funeral was shown live on two television stations. The Prime Ministers of UK and Ireland, the Irish President & a representative of the Queen attended alongside family, friends, colleagues & local politicians. From a Catholic background, Lyra was buried from the Church of Ireland cathedral, with a service conducted by clergy from both denominations. Lyra brought people together.
Referencing the local political stalemate (we’ve had no government since 2017) and the politicians sitting together in the front of the congregation, the priest wondered, “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 us to this point?” There is hope that this will mark a changing point, and cynicism that we’ve had potential changing points before, but our politicians dig deeper trenches.
Politicians won’t change until we tell them too. In May, we have 2 elections- for local councillors and for Members of the European Parliament. Our so called leaders will take their cues from those results.
Vote carefully. Vote for good. Vote for bringing people together. Take responsibility for our mess. Make change happen.