Martin McGuinness to visit Battle of the Somme site and Flanders Field
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has accepted an invitation to visit the Battle of the Somme site.
The Sinn Fein MLA said he is taking up an invitation from the Flemish government to visit Flanders Field next week and that he will also visit the Somme.
A series of major ceremonies are planned across the UK and France on July 1 to mark the centenary of the battle.
Sinn Fein has said there has been no decision taken on whether a party representative will attend one of those events.
The Somme was one of the bloodiest battles of World War One with more than one million casualties over 141 days.
Mr McGuinness will be accompanied on his visit by senior party colleagues including Sinn Fein Vice President Mary Lou McDonald TD.
Martin McGuinness said: “World War One is an important part of Ireland’s multi-layered history during which tens of thousands Irish people lost their lives.
“If we are to build understanding and reconciliation on this island, we all need to recognise and accept the complexity of the historical events and differing political narratives that make us who we are as a community and as a people.
“It is in this spirit of reconciliation I will be visiting Flanders Fields next week to learn more about the Battle of Messines which took place in June 1917.
“I will also visit the Somme to mark the terrible loss of life on all sides in that battle 100 years ago.
“I am doing so in a sincere effort to recognise the human suffering and also the importance these events hold for the unionist section of our people.”
Sinn Fein Vice president Mary Lou McDonald TD added: "Republicans opposed the imperialist First World War War and the subsequent slaughter which claimed the lives of millions.
“However, the loss of tens of thousands of Irish and Ulster Volunteers left a huge mark on our society.
“In this decade of anniversaries it is right to remember those who died in Flanders and at the Somme in a respectful and inclusive fashion.”