Hunger for politicians to achieve positive change in Northern Ireland was symbolised by mourners “pressuring” leaders to stand at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee, the priest has said.
The heads of Stormont’s main parties, including Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Arlene Foster of the DUP, gathered at St Anne’s Cathedral for the 29-year-old’s funeral on Wednesday.
The leaders were sat beside each other and a short distance from British Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, along with a host of other political figures.
Fr Martin Magill asked the politicians why, two years after powersharing broke down in the Northern Ireland Assembly, it had taken the slaying of a young woman to bring them together.
The question, delivered with a tone of exasperation, received a standing ovation – although the politicians, sat at the front of the congregation, were the last to get to their feet.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, the Catholic peacemaking priest suggested the striking images illustrated the wider public will for unity and change in Northern Ireland.
“The people, in a sense, really put the pressure on in the cathedral to stand,” he said.
“Obviously the politicians realised; ‘Oh goodness, everybody behind us is standing, we need to move,’ and they literally moved because people had moved.