Belfast Telegraph

Lord Mayor's action shows how far we have moved on

By Alf McCreary

The end of this Week of Remembrance gives us time to pause and reflect on what it has meant for this province. Was it a week when we dared to hope for a better future, or was it yet another illusion on the long road to peace in Northern Ireland?

Certainly the Churches played their part in staging acts of remembrance, often with a cross-community line-up of clerics.

However, the main headlines went deservedly to Councillor Mairtin O Muilleoir who was the first Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast to take part in an Armistice Day service, organised by the Royal British Legion.

He said it was "the most difficult decision of my life, but the right one".

It certainly was, and he deserves credit for taking another important step in the long healing process in Northern Ireland.

A number of things are worth noting, in this context. The Lord Mayor behaved in a dignified, low-key manner which quietly underlined the fact that this public duty should be the norm for every First Citizen, irrespective of his or her party.

Second, it was significant that there was no cross-community controversy about Mr O Muilleoir's action. It was accepted by all sides that it was right to honour the men and women of every denomination, and of none, on this island for their sacrifice in defending freedom in Europe.

It was also important to note that in Dublin there was also a Remembrance Day service in Glasnevin cemetery, which included a symbolic presence of the original UVF which preceded the outbreak of the First World War.

Such shared commemoration north and south would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, and it underlined how far we have progressed since a Provisional IRA bomb exploded without warning at the Enniskillen Cenotaph in 1987. This killed and injured innocent civilians in one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles which shocked people all over the world because every nation is entitled to remember their dead in peace.

Since those terrible days there has been a growing realisation that people on both sides in this province are tied to a shared history which one or other side might not wish to accept.

Mr O Muilleoir's presence at the Belfast Cenotaph was another important development, and credit must be given to politicians on all sides who were part of the orchestration which allowed this to happen.

Whatever takes place in the next few weeks, including another possible bout of madness from the "fleg" protesters, what happened at the Cenotaph cannot be erased from our local history. And that marks progress. Of course there will be setbacks, but we must hang on to the glimmers of light in the darkness.

On a wider front, I read The Times obituary this week of Manfred Rommel, the son of Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel who fought against the forces of Viscount Montgomery in the Desert War in North Africa.

Subsequently Manfred Rommel and Montgomery's son became close friends, in a display of Anglo-German solidarity which helped both nations to move forward from the savagery of their shared past.

Rommel junior, who became a legendary Mayor of Stuttgart, said: "I fight better wars than my father, and in a better cause."

In some ways this has been a Remembrance week where we might begin to dare to dream about peace, because it has to start somewhere.

Blessed are the peacemakers indeed.

Tributes

Our Cole was a talent in any language

John Cole, the distinguished journalist who died recently, was a staunch church-goer who remained close to his Ulster roots.

Despite this, he was fond of using some fancy terms. In one report for this newspaper he included "tant pis", which as not quite everyone knows is the French for "never mind."

I had to ask my French-speaking son for a translation ...

Disability Awareness Sunday

Churches urged to help the deaf

Tomorrow marks Disability Awareness Sunday in the Church of Ireland, and churches will be encouraged particularly to consider how to help deaf people, and those with hearing loss to participate fully in parish life and worship.

There is also a service at 3pm in All Souls, Elmwood Avenue in Belfast, tomorrow to remember more than 1,000 people murdered in the past five years because of their gender in the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

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