Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein's McGuinness calls on republicans to respect events in unionist culture

By Noel McAdam

Martin McGuinness has called for republicans to understand and respect events that shaped unionist culture - like the Battle of the Somme - if peace is to be stabilised.

The Deputy First Minister also argued that republicans had to acknowledge all the lives lost at the Battle of the Somme.

But he argued the twin centenary events of this year, including the Easter Rising, offer an opportunity to develop "a shared culture of commemoration".

In the major speech at Queen's University on the theme of Reimaging Reconciliation For The Future attended by post-primary pupils from local schools, the senior Sinn Fein man reiterated that republicans "will not be found wanting" in dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

But he again attacked both the British and Irish governments in relation to the negotiations which led to last November's Fresh Start deal but failed to make any progress on dealing with the past.

"At a time when the parties here have successfully negotiated a way forward on dealing with the legacy of the conflict, we see progress blocked by the British Government's insistence on a blanket veto on the grounds of 'national security' as defined by them alone," Mr McGuinness said.

"Their refusal thus far to even countenance the very reasonable compromise proposals put forward by the families' representatives doesn't augur well for their intentions."

Dublin, meanwhile, had "consistently exploited the conflict as a political football in order to try and score party political points" but there could be "a more responsible approach from any new administration - if and when we get one".

Mr McGuinness  said understanding the "multiplicity of narratives" emerging from the 1916 Easter Rising and Battle of the Somme presented a real opportunity to develop a shared culture of commemoration across this island.

"However these seminal events are interpreted, it is clear - if we are to consolidate the peace and build the future - that promoting respect and understanding must guide approaches to all commemorations and significant historic events," he said. "This will only happen if the planning, design and delivery of significant commemorations are informed by respect, generosity and inclusivity."

In respecting the memory of the republican dead, Mr McGuinness said he was also acutely aware of the need to acknowledge all lives lost at the Somme.

"Consolidating and stabilising the peace means that republicans must understand and be respectful to the key historic events that shaped unionist culture and identity," he said.

"As republicans we must make a huge effort to engage people from the unionist community in 1916 commemorative events. These events must be open and inclusive. Our words of reconciliation must be matched by our presence at key commemorative events that are important to the unionist community."

Mr McGuinness also warned the murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay by dissident republicans was a reminder that peace and political progress cannot be taken for granted.

Speaking on the day of Mr Ismay's funeral, he said: "The recent killing of Adrian Ismay was a human tragedy for his family but it was also a reminder to all of us in positions of leadership that we can't take the enormous progress we have made in the peace and political processes for granted."

But he emphasised political leaders must continue to work together to send out the "loud and clear" message "that we won't allow ourselves to be dragged back to the dark days of the past".

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