Sinn Fein may take part in Somme centenary events
Sinn Fein will consider attending events in Belfast to mark next year's centenary of the Battle of the Somme, the party's Belfast Lord Mayor Mayor has vowed.
Arder Carsonsaid he hoped commemorations to mark the 100th anniversaries of both the First World War battle and the 1916 Easter Rising would be as inclusive as possible.
On the 99th anniversary of the battle's first day, Mr Carson yesterday laid a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph at Belfast City Hall in a separate low-key event ahead of the main British Legion ceremony.
In doing so he was following an approach adopted by former Sinn Fein Lord Mayors Alex Maskey, Tom Hartley, Niall O Donnghaile and Mairtin O Muilleoir.
Mr O Muilleoir made history in November 2013 by becoming the first Sinn Fein Lord Mayor to attend a Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph.
The party's first citizens have yet to attend the main Battle of the Somme ceremony amid concerns about British military trappings.
Mr Carson said Sinn Fein would assess the plans for the 100th anniversary commemorations before deciding whether to attend.
"I thought it was important for me to be here as a republican in Belfast city and as mayor of the city as a mark of respect for everyone who lost someone in the First World War," he said.
Mr Carson said next year's two major centenaries would commemorate seminal events that had shaped the history of Ireland.
"They are both going to be marked in the city, they are both going to be marked with respect and dignity," he said. Later Secretary of State Theresa Villiers led tributes to soldiers who fought in the 1916 battle at the main commemoration ceremony at the City Hall.
She was joined by Republic of Ireland Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan.
Mr Flanagan is the first Irish Cabinet minister to mark the Somme anniversary in Belfast.
Soldiers from the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) Divisions fought side by side in the battle, which took place between July 1 and November 13, 1916, at the River Somme in France. More than 3,500 were killed and thousands more injured.