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Unionists slap down Sinn Fein invite to join in Easter Rising centenary celebrations

By Rebecca Black

Unionists have poured scorn on an invitation to take part in a series of events in Belfast next year to commemorate the Easter Rising.

The Dublin-based rebellion was a seminal staging post in Ireland's eventual breakaway from the United Kingdom in the partitioned settlement of 1921.

Former Belfast Lord Mayor and Sinn Fein activist Tom Hartley has launched a programme of events set to take place next year to mark 100 years since the Rising.

He pledged that all "dimensions and perspectives on the insurrection against British Rule in 1916 in Dublin [would] be reflected in the anniversary programme", and extended an invitation for loyalists to take part.

"There will be some who will engage, others who won't," the Sinn Fein man said.

"But we do think it is important for us from early on in this process to say, 'Look, we want this to be a period of hospitality, of bringing people in and getting other people's views and dealing with difficult views of 1916'. We have no difficulty with that."

But DUP MLA Nelson McCausland said republicans would be better desisting from acts such as naming children's playparks after terrorists than inviting people to what he called "this farcical commemoration".

"The announcement by Sinn Fein about its programme of events in Northern Ireland to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising is a poor attempt to hide the fact that in Ulster, the Easter Rising was an abject failure," Mr McCausland said.

"There was no rising in Ulster, and they have nothing locally to commemorate.

"Sinn Fein will attempt to rewrite history and present this republican failure as something glorious and inspirational, just as they attempt to rewrite the story of the recent terrorist campaign by the Provisional IRA.

"The best way to deal with that is for the truth to be told. Sinn Fein should not be allowed to forget the British soldiers and the civilians who were killed in Dublin in 1916 as a result of the rebellion."

The TUV has also advised unionists and loyalists against taking part in the events, but the PUP said that the party felt it was a matter that individuals should decide on for themselves. A PUP spokesman added: "As unionists and loyalists, we don't think people will want to participate in any celebration events, however it is a matter for the individual to decide.

"The unionist and loyalist community will have their eyes firmly focused on remembering those who sacrificed their lives on the battlefields of France that very same year.

"On the other hand, there will be those who want to gain a better understanding of the conflict and British and Irish history, and that will be a personal choice for the individual."

Mr Hartley was the main speaker as the programme of events to mark the Rising in Belfast was unveiled at City Hall. Parades, re-enactments, lectures, exhibitions, cycle tours and a commemorative walking trail are all planned for next year.

There will also be a weekend of events focusing on the contribution of Winifred Carney, the Co Down-born suffragette, socialist and trade unionist who acted as secretary to one of the Rising's leaders, James Connolly.

One of Ms Carney's relatives, Desmond Cassidy, attended the launch event in City Hall.

"It's the greatest thing that has come to pass in the family that this is all happening for Winifred at the moment," he said.

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