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Former UDA man Glenn Barr reveals blueprint to help resolve bonfires issues

By Eamonn Macdermott

Published 19/08/2015

A nationalist bonfire close to Derry’s walls, including unionist flags and effigies of soldiers, which was burned at the weekend
A nationalist bonfire close to Derry’s walls, including unionist flags and effigies of soldiers, which was burned at the weekend

A former UDA member turned peace activist has come up with a novel solution to the bonfires issue in Northern Ireland.

Those responsible for the placing of a poppy wreath on a bonfire in the Creggan area of Londonderry should visit the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines in Belgium to get a better understanding of the sacrifice the poppy represents, according to Glenn Barr, the chief executive of the International School of Peace Studies.

Speaking after the weekend incident in which a poppy wreath was burned on a nationalist bonfire, sparking unionist fury, Mr Barr said it was “a sad day” and added that people did not fully understand the symbols that were out there.

He said: “The young people involved in this incident would need to be educated in the importance of all the symbols out there. The poppy and the lily are both symbols that should be accorded respect.

“The Easter lily is associated with the Rising and the poppy should be seen a symbol for everyone.

“It is not a British symbol, it is used in Canada and Australia, and the money raised goes to help all ex-servicemen and women, regardless of religion.”

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Mr Barr continued: “When people from the nationalist tradition want to lay a poppy wreath we would use a green, white and orange ribbon to mark both sides.

“There is a fundamental issue here and that is if you claim the right of political and religious freedom you cannot deny it to others.

“Let’s remember those that sacrificed their lives at Messines came from both sides and German shells and bullets did not discriminate between Catholics and Protestants.”

The Peace Park in Messines in Belgium was opened by the Queen and Irish president Mary McAleese and Mr Barr believes that visiting there has a positive effect on people.

He said: “I would love the young people involved in this incident to come to Messines.

“I firmly believe that Messines makes you change, it makes you change out of respect because what it represents frees you from the enslavement of bigotry and resentment.

“I have seen groups from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds come here and leave with their arms around each other.

“Children are not born bigots, we make them, and we each and every one of us have to ask ourselves, have we done anything to make a child turn into a bigot.”

Mr Barr said he believed that by visiting Messines, children especially would find it easier to talk to each other and understand the other point of view.

He said: “Let’s remember the alternative to talking is beating the hell out of each other.

“It is very easy to start a war but very difficult to stop it.”

Mr Barr said he would be willing to help facilitate a visit to Messines by young people from the Creggan area, subject to funding.

Meanwhile, the project director of the Old Library Trust in Creggan, Seamus Heaney, has said everyone should be entitled to remember those who died in conflict “in a dignified manner”.

He said: “What this weekend showed is that both sides need to develop a dialogue about what purpose acts of remembrance serve.

“Remembering people who have been lost in conflict in whatever war in a dignified manner needs to be a top priority.

“This can only be done by showing understanding and compassion for those not of your own tradition.

“Anything that helps people to understand and walk in the shoes of another who has suffered terribly in other conflicts at least brings us to a point of understanding.”

Online Editors

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