Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Call for inclusive centenary events

Members of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement gathered at the City Cemetery in Londonderry to commemorate the Easter Rising in May

A former general secretary of Sinn Fein has called for talks with unionists to agree an inclusive approach to centenary commemorations.

Stormont South Antrim MLA Mitchel McLaughlin said there could be no justifiable reason to deny the courage or sacrifice of those who fought in the First World War. But he warned that the fight for Irish independence should also be remembered.

Centenaries such as the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 and the Easter Rising earlier that year are looming.

Mr McLaughlin said: "We will see remembrance and commemorative events by the established traditions on the island which will present republicanism and unionism with challenges and opportunities.

"These ceremonies will challenge the commitment of political leaders to the principles of equality and parity of esteem for all political traditions.

"It will also present them with an opportunity to demonstrate respect for the right to remember.

"Therefore let all of us - republicans/nationalists and unionists/loyalists - approach the centenaries of these events in a spirit of respect for difference and initiate dialogue to agree an inclusive and mutual approach to the centenary commemorations."

A commemoration committee has established a number of significant First World War dates which Northern Ireland will play a role in.

They include the centenary of the battles of Gallipoli in April 2015 and Jutland in May 2016, with HMS Caroline in Belfast playing an important part in that particular commemoration. July 1 2016, the centenary of the commencement of the Battle of the Somme, will also be of special significance in Northern Ireland.

An estimated 210,000 Irishmen enlisted in the British Army during the First World War. Many died on the fields of northern France and Belgium or in the Dardanelles.

The centenary of the Rising and the War of Independence which broke out in 1919 will be of seminal importance to all nationalists.

Mr McLaughlin told the Derry Journal: "There can be no justifiable reason to deny the courage or the suffering and sacrifice of the men who fought in World War One.

"But it is not just those who died fighting for Britain that will be remembered particularly as we approach the centenary commemorations.

"Nationalist Ireland will also remember, commemorate and celebrate the lives and sacrifice of those who chose to fight for Irish independence and freedom."

Lagan Valley DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson chairs a committee which organises events in Northern Ireland marking the 1914-18 war.

It believes the key themes for the commemoration should be remembrance and reconciliation.

Mr Donaldson said: "The events of the First World War are of a scale and international significance that they are of a magnitude that really sets them in a different context to the events of Easter 1916.

"However, unionists recognise that the Easter Rising is significant to nationalists and republicans but it is important that just as unionists have sought to be sensitive in our approach to things like the Ulster Covenant that nationalists and republicans do likewise in respect of the events of 1916."

He added that he was happy to meet with Sinn Fein to discuss plans for the First World War centenary but felt most people would wish to avoid creating some kind of equivalence between the Easter Rising and the loss of millions of people during the world conflict.

"I think that unionists would certainly not wish to participate in something that was seen as anti-British or potentially offensive to unionists and I think it would be interesting to hear what the plans are."

Mr McLaughlin said the events of 100 years ago and their aftermath needed to be looked at again.

"We need to instigate a process where there is inclusive dialogue, discussion and ownership of the events of that period."

He added: "We should be considering what we do for the period ahead. This is an opportunity and challenge.

"I don't underestimate the difficulties but we should not be making any obstacles and making it more difficult, we need to overcome the difficulties."

He said they should examine what prevents people from recognising the past and added there should be no barriers to unionists acknowledg ing the historic significance and impact the Easter Rising has had on Irish society north and south.

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