Sinn Fein Speaker McLaughlin to lay wreath in memory of Messines fallen
Mitchel McLaughlin will lay a wreath at the cenotaph in Londonderry in commemoration of the Battle of Messines in 1917, the first member of Sinn Fein to attend the service in the city.
While a general invitation was issued to all political parties this is the first time in the 14 years the service has been held in Derry that a Sinn Fein member will attend.
Confirming his acceptance of the invitation, Mr McLaughlin said it was important for him to be there in his role as Speaker of the Assembly.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "Soon after taking office, I made clear that a key part of the independent and impartial role of Speaker was to give a lead in ensuring that the Assembly respects all of the communities it represents. In my speech for St Patrick's Day, I also recognised that demonstrating respect was particularly important in acts of remembrance of our shared history.
"Thousands of young men of the unionist and the nationalist traditions, who would join different sides when they returned home, first fought together on the battlefields of Europe. We should remember their sacrifice and, in doing so, challenge our own collective thinking within nationalism and unionism about the context of later events and the divisions that opened up then and continue to this day."
Chief executive of the International School of Peace Studies, Glenn Barr, said he was delighted that Mr McLaughlin would attend and added he hoped he would be joined by the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane, Elisha McCallion, a party colleague of Mr McLaughlin.
He said: "We commemorated the Battle at Messines until 14 years ago I decided it was time we did this in our own city but this is the first time a member of Sinn Fein will attend and will actually lay a wreath.
"I am glad that Mitchel McLaughlin is doing this, he said it was important that he put into action the promise he made to be truly impartial as Speaker of the Assembly.
"A few years ago Martina Anderson discovered that her great-uncle John Doherty was among people who fought in Messines. His body was never found and his name is written on the memorial wall along with the Queen's maternal uncle who also died.
"Martina Anderson visited Messines for the 90th anniversary and Cllr McCallion is also a relative of John Doherty so it would be very fitting for her to join us on Sunday, June 7."
While a general invitation was issued to all political parties to the Messines event, this is the first time in the 14 years the service has been held in Londonderry that a Sinn Fein member will attend. The event is being organised by the International School of Peace Studies for June 7 and will be attended by around 150 people led from London Street to the Cenotaph at the Diamond. Flags of all the nations involved in the battle of Messines will form the colour party.