Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, right and Ireland Prime Minister Leo Varadkar leave after the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee, at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, northern Ireland, Wednesday April 24, 2019. The leaders of Britain and Ireland joined hundreds of mourners Wednesday at the funeral of Lyra McKee, the young journalist shot dead during rioting in Northern Ireland last week. (Brian Lawless/PA via AP)

Journalist death spurs bid to restore Northern Ireland govt

April 26, 2019 - 8:56 am

LONDON (AP) — Britain and Ireland made a new push Friday to restore Northern Ireland's collapsed government, amid mounting pressure for political action after the killing of a journalist by a banned militant group.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and British leader Theresa May announced that a new round of talks will be held to revive the power-sharing administration, which has been suspended for more than two years because of a dispute between the main Protestant and Catholic parties.

The leaders said in a joint statement that the talks, involving all Northern Ireland's main parties, will begin after next week's local elections in Northern Ireland.

Security officials have warned that political drift in Northern Ireland — along with uncertainty around Brexit — is emboldening groups that are bent on violence.

Pressure on politicians to break the impasse has grown since the killing of journalist Lyra McKee, shot dead last week by a member of Irish nationalist militant group the New IRA during rioting in Londonderry, which is also known as Derry.

McKee's death drew condemnation from across the political divide, with May, Varadkar and Northern Ireland political leaders attending her funeral in Belfast on Wednesday.

In his homily, Father Martin Magill praised the united response of politicians, but asked: "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?" Mourners rose to give him a standing ovation.

May and Varadkar said they had heard " the unmistakable message to all political leaders that people across Northern Ireland want to see a new momentum for political progress."

"We agree that what is now needed is actions and not just words from all of us who are in positions of leadership," they said.

Most of Northern Ireland's paramilitary groups have disarmed since a 1998 peace accord ended three decades of sectarian conflict. But a small number of dissidents refused to abandon violence, and have targeted police and prison officials in bombings and shootings.

The New IRA, the largest of the splinter groups, acknowledged responsibility for McKee's death, saying she was shot accidentally "while standing beside enemy forces" — a reference to the police.

Robin Swann, leader of the pro-British Ulster Unionist Party, said Friday that Northern Ireland's political vacuum "will be exploited and filled by the men and women of the shadows."

"As political leaders we must recognize that and get back around the table," he said.

Police released video footage Friday of a stocky, masked man they say is suspected of shooting McKee and urged residents to help identify him.

"I believe he is the person who took the life of Lyra McKee," Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy said.

"People saw this young man and his associates. I think people in the community know who they are and I'm asking them today to come forward to help us."

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