U.S. Markets open in 3 hrs 44 mins

Lyra McKee: Priest calls for 'new beginning' in Northern Ireland as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn join mourners

Telegraph Reporters

A priest has called on the murder of Lyra McKee to be "the doorway to a new beginning" for Northern Ireland, as it was claimed the journalist was planning to propose to her partner.

Father Martin Magill said Miss McKee's lasting legacy should be peace at her funeral earlier today in St Annes Cathedral attended by political leaders including Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.

Miss McKee, 29, was killed during clashes between police and New IRA dissidents on the Creggan estate in Londonderry, on April 18.

Father Magill said: "I dare to hope that Lyra's murder on Holy Thursday night can be the doorway to a new beginning. I detect a deep desire for this."

"To those who had any part in her murder, I encourage you to reflect on Lyra McKee, journalist and writer, as a powerful example of 'The pen is mightier than the sword'.

Crowds gathered as the funeral cortege arrived outside St Annes Cathedral in Belfast Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

"I plead with you to take the road of non-violence to achieve your political ends."

Following the service, Miss McKee's friend Stephen Lusty said she was planning to propose to her partner Sara Canning and showed her pictures of an engagement ring she had identified.

Mr Lusty said: "She made me put a date in my diary for the wedding in Donegal in 2022 and gave me strict instructions to wear my kilt, which she always wanted to borrow, adorn it with some Harry Potter, and to find or re-find my own version of Sara."

Earlier today, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn missed Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) as they travelled to Belfast to attend the funeral.

Lyra McKee's funeral will take place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast this afternoon Credit: AFP

Mrs May represented the Government alongside Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley at St Anne's Cathedral this afternoon. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also present at the funeral.

Other political leaders in attendance included Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and President Michael Higgins, as well as Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The journalist's funeral cortege arrived outside the cathedral for the 1pm service after passing a gay nightclub, where mourners stood with rainbow flags.

Crowds gathered on the streets broke into applause as the cortege arrived.

Mrs May spoke with Miss McKee's partner Sara Canning and the rest of her family, including her mother Joan McKee, as she arrived at the funeral.

The coffin is carried into the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

Around 600 mourners were packed inside the cathredal, where Jeremy Corbyn was seen speaking to Leo Varadkar and Arlene Foster.

Fellow journalists formed a guard of honour as the service began.

Father Magill, addressing the congregation, urged the New IRA, a dissident republican group which apologised for Miss McKee's murder, to walk away from violence.

"To those still intent on violence, I ask you to listen to the majority of the people on your beloved island of Ireland who are calling on you to stop."

Father Magill said he "dares to hope" that the tragedy can be "the doorway to a new beginning".

He also recalled speaking with Miss McKee as she researched her book The Lost Boys, about youngsters who had disappeared in the past, describing her as "like a dog with a bone" about the project.

"I certainly experienced her gentle, determined doggedness," he said.

"I pray her work will be taken up and that their bodies will be found and, even more importantly, that there will be no more lost boys or lost girls.

"When I consider Lyra's determination, it strikes me that she was the embodiment of the St Gemma's school motto: truth and charity."

Speaking ahead of her funeral, her mother Joan, brothers Gary and David, and sisters Joan Hunter, Nichola Corner and Mary Crossan paid tribute to her as "a best friend and confidante".

Theresa May, in between Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (left) and President Michael Higgins, at the service Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

In a statement, the family said: "On Thursday 18th April our beautiful Lyra was taken from us.

"A daughter, a sister, an aunt, a great-aunt, a partner, a niece, a cousin, and above all, a best friend and confidante to so many of us.

"A friend to all, a gentle innocent soul who wouldn't wish ill on anyone. Such a warm and innocent heart, she was the greatest listener, someone who had time for everyone."

The McKee family added: "She was a smart, strong-minded woman who believed passionately in inclusivity, justice and truth.

Jeremy Corbyn and Leo Varadkar arrive at the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee Credit: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

"Lyra spoke to and made friends with anybody and everybody, no matter what their background, those of all political views and those with none. This openness, and her desire to bring people together, made her totally apolitical."

They said: "We would ask that Lyra's life and her personal philosophy are used as an example to us all as we face this tragedy together.

"Lyra's answer would have been simple, the only way to overcome hatred and intolerance is with love, understanding and kindness."

Sara Canning, Ms McKee's partner, said previously: "Our hopes and dreams and all of her amazing potential was snuffed out by this single barbaric act."

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald sat next to one another at the funeral  Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

Ms McKee's funeral was intended to be a cross-community, cross-border and multi-cultural service.

Those attending were asked to wear Harry Potter and Marvel Comic merchandise in tribute to the journalist's love of both works.

The New IRA admitted responsibility for the murder on Tuesday in a statement given to The Irish News.

Using a recognised code word to authenticate the statement, the group offered "full and sincere apologies" to Ms McKee's family and friends, claiming: "We have instructed our volunteers to take the utmost care in future when engaging the enemy, and put in place measures to help ensure this."

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald condemned the New IRA "unreservedly" following the statement.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The war in Ireland is over, the conflict is over, the IRA arms have been destroyed or put beyond use.

"We have a new democratic dispensation and it is so important we make that work, that institutions of government work."

She added: "They are a tiny, unrepresentative group that have no plan, that have no strategy.

"If their alibi (for the killing of journalist Lyra McKee) is they are seeking to advance the cause of republicanism, they are very far off the mark."

Miss McKee was killed during clashes with police and New IRA dissidents Credit: PA

Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley rejected the New IRA's apology in a statement to the House of Commons yesterday relating to the death of the Miss McKee.

She said: "It remains the case across Northern Ireland that small numbers of dissident republican terrorists remain intent on killing.

"What we have seen in the days since Lyra McKee's death is that the communities that they claim to represent and seek to control don't want them."

Ms Bradley later said: "To those responsible for this act of terrorism, we say we have heard your excuses and your hollow apologies. No-one buys it.

The New IRA admitted responsibility for Miss McKee's death following violent clashes in Londonderry Credit: Niall Carson/PA

"This was no accident. There is nothing that can justify this murderous act and you are being called out for what you really are."

The New IRA is an amalgam of armed groups opposed to the peace process and it recently claimed responsibility for parcel bombs sent to London and Glasgow in March.

Police believe the violence was orchestrated in response to an earlier search by officers aimed at averting imminent trouble associated with the week's anniversary of the Easter Rising.