Martin McGuinness urges unity over First World War commemorations
Irishmen who joined the British Army in the First World War should be remembered by both unionists and republicans, Martin McGuinness said last night.
The senior Sinn Fein representative told an event in Co Donegal the troops were part of a shared history and republicans had no desire to "erase the memory of their bravery".
The deputy First Minister addressed the 30th Patrick MacGuill Summer School where he gave the annual John Hume lecture.
And while he devoted much of his speech to calling for a renewed focus on co-ordinating public services on an all-Ireland basis to benefit border communities and remove duplication, he also looked towards important historical commemorations ahead.
He said: "This 30th Patrick MacGuill Summer School gathers as we enter the decade which marks the centenary of a number of defining events in Irish history including the Great Lockout of 1913, the Easter Rising, the Battle of the Somme, the Ulster Covenant and the Partition of Ireland. Nobody should be afraid of commemorating or debating these landmarks in our history.
"It is right to recognise the heroism of those who stood for the vision of the Irish republic articulated on Easter Sunday 1916."
Mr McGuinness added: "It is also right to recognise in the period ahead, the sacrifice of those Irishmen who fought in the First World War.
"While some may question the value of their actions no one can set aside the scale of the loss or doubt the personal tragedy.
"Republicans have no wish to erase the memory of their bravery or their part in Irish history.
"Many working class Irishmen fought in the British Army at that time because of the unrelenting poverty that they and their families experienced.
"Their motivation and their experience were articulated by Tom Kettle, an Irish National Volunteer, who shortly before his death at the Somme in September 1916 wrote these lines to his daughter: Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead, Died not for Flag, nor King, nor Emperor, But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed, And for the Secret Scripture of the poor."
Mr McGuinness said: "Among the courageous Irishmen who gave their lives in that war also were those who fully believed in their actions and the choices they took. Their sacrifice and their loss are no less worthy of remembrance. The experiences of republicans, nationalists, unionists and all others form part of our collective memory.
"They are part of who we are as a community, as a nation. While we must remember these events we also must critically engage with our past."
He said the last 100 years of Irish history were dominated by "partition, divergence, exclusion and conflict".
He praised the contribution of John Hume, Gerry Adams and others in building the peace process.
Mr McGuinness said of Ireland's troubled past: "These failures must be consigned to the past. I believe that Ireland is now set on a course towards unity, convergence, inclusion and lasting peace. This is not a bland aspiration.
"In this way we will deliver equality, prosperity and reconciliation for all our people in all their diversity. In this way we will build a nation of which our children can be proud and a republic worthy of the name."