Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Irish Nationalist to wear Poppy

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie is to wear a poppy on Remembrance Sunday
SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie is to wear a poppy on Remembrance Sunday

An Irish nationalist will become the first leader of her party to wear the poppy on Remembrance Sunday.

SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie will attend a ceremony in south Down in Northern Ireland this weekend marking the sacrifice of millions of war dead.

The poppy has been a controversial symbol in Northern Ireland, often dividing unionists from nationalists who resent the British Army's role in the country.

Ms Ritchie said: "It is a measure of moving on, of respect and reconciliation."

The poppy is sold by the British Legion in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday in November to raise money for veterans. Belfast SDLP Lord Mayor Pat Convery will also wear a poppy at the city's Remembrance Day event.

Ms Ritchie, South Down MP, said: "I feel so many Irish nationalists fought in two world wars and were airbrushed out of history. It is a measure of moving on, of respect and reconciliation and I will be looking for measures moving on from unionists and also the British Legion, perhaps by going to a GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) match. None of this dilutes our effort to have a united Ireland."

She said her party voted against the war in Iraq. "War is totally futile, as the violence in the north of Ireland has proved," she added. "People have tried to manipulate the whole issue of war and that is wrong and should never have happened."

Sinn Fein Northern Ireland Assembly member Alex Maskey broke ground in 2002 when as his party's first Belfast Lord Mayor, he laid a wreath to remember those who fell at the Battle of the Somme.

"For me the poppy was a symbol and an emblem of British military battles, it is not an international, universal symbol of remembrance," he said. "A lot of people in this country find it difficult to wear a poppy whenever they have suffered at the hands of the British military for many years. It is a very deep-rooted thing here."

At the remembrance commemoration at Belfast City Hall, Mr Convery wore a poppy. "Our party has worn the poppy whenever they were lord mayor in the past here in the city," he said.

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