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25/09/2021

Lyra McKee: Walk from Belfast to Derry aimed at 'ordinary people taking back the Good Friday Agreement'

Lyra McKee

The organisers of a three-day walk in honour of Lyra McKee from Belfast to Derry have appealed to people across the country to do what they can to support the event.

Lyra's Walk will leave Belfast on Friday, May 25 and will reach Guildhall Square on Sunday, May 27.

Whilst planning for the event is in its initial stages, hundreds of individuals and a wide diversity of groups have pledged to take part in the walk. And, towns and villages along the route have already offered to throw open their homes to provide shelter to walkers.

Last night in Derry city centre a peace concert in memory of the 29-year-old journalist drew people into Guildhall Square. The Sing For Peace event saw performances from choirs, singers and musicians.

In officially announcing Lyra's Walk, the organisers pinpointed the reasons why they believed the event needs to take place.

A statement from the group said: "We are a group of ordinary people profoundly touched by the murder of Lyra McKee.We say 'not in our name'. We walk for peace and to reclaim, to defend and to reassert the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

"We demand that Lyra's death be the last. Lyra's death has caused revulsion and anger but it has also reminded us of how desperately fragile our peace process remains."

Susan Curran an organiser of the walk and a spokesperson for the group behind it told the Derry News: "First we sought and received the blessing of Lyra's family before we went ahead.

"I didn't know Lyra, I am just someone who woke up that morning and found out she had been killed the night before.

Every person who has been killed is unique.

The pain lyras family feel is unique to them and that is also a shared pain with the rest of the community. I don't believe in a hierarchy of victims but for me, it was the realisation that it is 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement and we are still waking up to headlines that another life has been snuffed out.

"I am not saying that Lyra was different or better than anyone else, but my raw reaction was that I felt compelled to get involved. We just can't go back to those days.

"The entire time that I was growing up I listened to people from both sides asking how we were going to square the circle. All we really did, despite the Good Friday Agreement, was go around in circles.

"The peace process was supposed to be the breakthrough for us. It legitimised all of our identities and gave us all the chance to self-determine.

"I voted for it but I regarded it as a contract to live my life within it's principles. That contract has been broken over and over again. The walk came about after I spoke to a friend of Lyra's who was grieving. It happened in a moment of helplessness. It came about like that to demonstrate the will of the people.

"We want Lyra's death to be the last of its kind in our country and we want to demonstrate the rejection of violence as a means of trying to solve our problems and to show that ordinary people are taking back ownership of the Good Friday Agreement."

Laying out the objectives of Lyra's Walk, Susan Curran added that the event was firmly about peace.

"Young people being attracted into violent groups is a failure of politics. They are told that is they can pick up a gun then can fight for their country and that's as a consequence of political failure.

"We are still looking for that shared space and agreement. We were asked to vote for that in the Good Friday Agreement-the politicians put that to us, but they have yet to walk back into a room face to face with those they believe are their enemies. We are asking them to show the moral and political courage to achieve those objectives by an exclusive commitment to peaceful and democratic means," said Susan.

The Lyra's Walk spokesperson also said that the symbolism of retracing the route of the Civil Rights march from Belfast to Derry 50 years ago has not been lost on the events organisers.

Susan Curran said: "That was wonderful as were the efforts of the Peace People later on, but that was befire the peace process. Our generation is post Good Friday Agreement, post ceasefire but we are not post conflict.

"We what to pressurise ourselves, violent groups, political parties, political leaders and the two governments to recommit fully to the Good Friday Agreement. We hear a lot about the red lines drawn by politicians. Well, this is our red line."

Another of the organisers Connall McCorry said: "I am coming at this from the perspective of being one of Lyra's friends. I worked with her closely on a youth project and because of that we became very supportive of each other.

"Her murder came as an absolute shock. My thoughts and the thoughts of many others was that we should hold a vigil and while we were organising that the idea of a walk developed.

"We thought the Good Friday Agreement was signed 21 years ago, so why is this still happening?

"Any murder is terrible, but Lyra's murder struck a chord, it seems different from other murders. Coming all those years after the Good Friday Agreement this doesn't feel good at all.

"We are non-aligned politically and we want people to come out and show that we are united. Already there have been 350 individual registrations and many groups as well. Support has come from all types of groups and organisations: Belfast and Derry Pride, as well as the Belfast Islamic Centre and groups from both sides of the conflict have committed to take part.

"After Lyra's murder people wanted an outlet for hope and this is a way to get hope back by getting involved because people feel very disenfranchised."

Connall also revealed that the night before Lyra McKee's killing that he and his partner had discussed moving away from Northern Ireland because of the general state of society here.

"We talked about packing up and moving to Galway or somewhere we won't have the denial of rights. Even simple things like trying to get a bus to work here is a big task never mind the state of the health service and schools. Society here has broken down.

"Lyra wasn't afraid to stand up in the face of people. She was truly apolitical and empathetic. She saw past people's prejudices and problems and saw the human side  and that's why people are feeling her loss.

"Our message is positive so we are asking people to come and join us in the development of our society. Lyra was very explicit in her lover dialogue and uncomfortable discussions and we are going to provide the opportunity for roundtable talks at camps along the way," Connall said.

The logistical side of Lyra's Walk is being taken on by Brenda Gough who is a location and film manager by profession.

Speaking to the Derry News she said: "The walk will begin at Writer's Square in Belfast. Lyra's partner Sara thought this would be very appropriate.

"We will then walk to Randalstown and we already have the support of a landowner and a businessman on the Moneynick Road. We've also been offered the use of portaloo's and water supplies, food and aid stations.

"Even at this stage we would call on people to approach this sensibly and realise they need to bring their own tents and sleeping bags. In terms of food bring energy bars and please bring a reusable water bottle as we don't want single use plastic containers.

"The walk will then head onto Dungiven where the people have already offered to open up their homes for beds and showers.

"There's already been an amazing amount of kindness and it shows people's need to be a part of this, because they are weary of the entire situation here.

"Then we will tackle the Glenshane Pass where the Ponderosa Bar say they will do what they can for us. And, Translink will be on standby to help us along the route because by then people will be tired and may have injured ankles or feet.

"We've also had many people offering their cars and vans to ferry luggage. Then it will be on to Derry and a rally at Guildhall Square."

The Derry News asked Brenda Gough about her personal involvement in Lyra's Walk.

"I didn't know Lyra, but so many people in my life did. People are not just grieving for her murder but for the peace process that hasn't happened in Northern Ireland.

"We cannot place any more young lives on the sacrificial altar of political expediency. If you are homophobic then go and speak to someone from the LGBT community. If you are Christian then go and speak to a Muslim. People look at labels, but they don't look at the people behind those labels.

"You can't change the world but you can change yourself. True strength comes from being vulnerable and it takes a strong person to have conversations like that," she said.

It is not necessary to complete the entire route in order to take part and members of political parties are welcome to register

Those looking to take part in Lyra's Walk later this month can register for free at https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/lyras-walk-tickets-60703941122.

Organisers are particularly keen to hear from youth and community groups across Northern Ireland and are also seeking help from people with particular skills, donations and services they feel might help. Those and any other queries can be made by emailing lyraswalk@gmail.com or on Facebook or Twitter by searching for Lyras Walk.

CAPTION: Journalist Lyra McKee who was murdered by a 'New IRA' gunman on Holy Thursday, April 18 in Derry's Creggan estate.

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