17 May 2019

Lyra McKee’s friends feel ‘worthless’ after Northern Ireland Office spends just £318 on LGBT rights

Scotland Correspondent

Ruth Davidson says she will go back to Theresa May over PM’s promise to advance LGBT rights in Northern Ireland

Two years ago Prime Minister Theresa May gave Ruth Davidson a promise. The UK government would use its influence to advance LGBT rights in Northern Ireland – despite considering Gay Marriage and Abortion to be devolved issues.

That promise helped secure Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s decision to back Theresa May’s £1 billion deal with the Democratic Unionists, who are staunch opponents of gay marriage and abortion.

The DUP had vetoed marriage equality before the executive at Stormont had collapsed.

Now, a Freedom of Information request by Channel 4 News reveals that the government’s Northern Ireland Office has so far spent just £318 on advancing LGBT right, paying for rainbow-coloured lanyards.

For the friends of the murdered journalist Lyra McKee, herself a prominent LGBT campaigner, this has provoked shock and anger.

Talking to Channel 4 News they say they feel “worthless” by this revelation and that they believe absolutely nothing has been achieved to advance gay rights in Northern Ireland.

Kathleen Bradley, a close friend of Lyra and her partner Sara, said the sum made her feel “worthless” and urged Ms Davidson to intervene:

“With Ruth being in the position she is.. and being herself from the community, I would really urge Ruth to go back to the Prime Minister.. and to say, look, this isn’t something that can be ignored.”

Sinead Quinn, another friend of Lyra’s, told Channel 4 News she hoped marriage equality in Northern Ireland would form part of Lyra’s legacy.

“The people in Northern Ireland – 70% you’re talking, who would welcome marriage equality.  We need to get as many of the 70% to take to the streets to write letters to do whatever they can within their capabilities to ensure that marriage equality comes. And it would be lovely to have that as part of Lyra’s legacy.”

Lyra’s partner, Sara Canning, will lead a march for same sex marriage on the streets of Belfast this weekend, which thousands are expected to attend.

Speaking to Channel 4 News the Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson said: “I’m deeply disappointed we haven’t seen equal marriage there yet. I’ve been speaking to politicians over there and spoken in Belfast on this issue and I would love to see it come true. One of the priorities we need is to get the Stormont Assembly up and running again. You have to have a legislature to pass the law and unfortunately we’ve seen Stormont just not functioning. ”

When asked if £318 was all her promise meant, Ruth Davidson responded: “Well I don’t think that’s fair, I’ve been working incredibly hard and I’ve been over in Northern Ireland and spoken to community groups there and religious leaders who are opposed to it.”

She added: “I’m happy to go back to the Prime Minister and talk about this and go back to the people I’ve already lobbied. I’m happy to keep going.”

In response, the Northern Ireland Office said: “The Government has always been clear about its support of same sex marriage for the whole of the UK.  The fundamental position remains, however, that same sex marriage is a fully devolved issue in Northern Ireland.

“The recently convened cross-party talks are an opportunity for the Northern Ireland parties to consider how a restored Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive can address same sex marriage.The Government will keep its position on same sex marriage in Northern Ireland under review, as appropriate.”