Rev David Latimer urges 'open hearts' in NI talks

Rev David Latimer
Image caption Rev David Latimer is urging politicians to find a way forward in the latest round of talks

A Presbyterian minister who befriended Martin McGuinness has urged Northern Ireland's politicians to enter talks with "open minds and willing hearts".

Rev David Latimer is asking people to support a letter he has written to political leaders following the death of journalist Lyra McKee.

Ms McKee was shot dead while observing a riot in Londonderry.

Rev Latimer is opening First Derry church for anyone who wishes to sign his letter over the next four days.

He said the journalist's death "compels us to plead with our politicians to put people before party".

"Lyra's death has, sadly, opened a window, a door through which our politicians must now walk," Rev Latimer said.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since January 2017.

The British and Irish governments last week announced new political talks would begin on 7 May.

On Monday, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said new talks due to begin at Stormont next week are "not going to be easy".

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Martin McGuinness and Rev David Latimer at Sinn Fein's annual conference in 2011

Rev Latimer said should talks fail to reach agreement, the people of Northern Ireland "could be forgotten about for decades to come".

"I am asking people to come to First Derry Presbyterian and to sign this letter; it is the only way I feel that politicians can be persuaded that now is the opportunity to get out of this political wilderness.

"By lending their name to the letter, people are telling politicians that we are behind them and will be behind them until they get the right result."

The letter, published in Tuesday's Derry Journal, also urges the British and Irish governments for "intensive 'hands on' support".

The text of Rev Latimer's letter in full

A plea to politicians

The fatal shooting of Lyra McKee in Creggan has released an unprecedented tidal wave of revulsion around our city and across Northern Ireland.

Believing that Lyra's shocking death can become a catalyst for change in Derry-Londonderry and beyond compels us to plead with our politicians to put people before party and to approach a new round of talks with open minds and willing hearts.

Image copyright AFP/Jess Lowe
Image caption Lyra McKee was murdered in Londonderry as she observed rioting earlier this month

It is time to make Northern Ireland work for all its citizens regardless of their age, creed, colour, culture or gender identity is what we are saying.

Rather than being forever entangled by issues that divide, we urge you to first create a reservoir of trust amongst yourselves by intentionally focussing on issues such as education, health, infrastructure, economy and environment - issues that have the potential to unite.

Thereafter it may prove more productive to engage with one another in the important and unavoidable difficult conversations.

There is now a golden opportunity to show to ourselves and the world that a new mould and a new life can be shaped for the greater good of all.

The sea-change we long for, however, will neither be easy or quick. It will involve going beyond what comes naturally and it will necessitate breaking new ground. Moreover, it will require close support from Dublin and London. After all, it was their considerable commitment in 1998 that helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement.

Therefore, we're calling for intensive 'hands-on' support from both governments for as long as it takes and also, if necessary, the appointment of an independent facilitator. Far and away the top priority for fresh talks must be to revive devolved government at Stormont and to do it without delay.

For our part, we assure you of our support as we implore you, our valued political representatives, to make a supreme effort to re-establish what has been broken and to go all out to bridge the gulf that immobilizes progress.

May you have the courage to act in the best interests of all the people and give peace in our country another chance.

Rev Latimer became friends with former Sinn Féin deputy first minster Martin McGuinness when he asked him for help in stopping attacks on his church which overlooks the Bogside.

He later spoke at the Sinn Féin ard fheis (conference) in Belfast in 2011, while, in 2017, Rev Latimer addressed mourners at former IRA leader Mr McGuinness' funeral.

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