Belfast Telegraph

Leaders must rise to challenge

Editor's Viewpoint

Northern Ireland is a place where history hangs round its citizens' necks like a millstone. There is no collective, consensual view of the past. Rather both communities glorify those events which they find seminal in the development of their own place in society.

That is why what has become known as the decade of centenaries is so pitted with potential potholes. Nowhere is that more evident than next year which marks the centenary of the Easter Rising.

That is why we should carefully read the views in this newspaper today of Charlie Flanagan, the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. He gives a strong hint that a high-ranking member of the Royal Family - possibly Prince Charles - will be invited to Dublin at an appropriate stage next year to join in the centenary celebrations.

The Queen's historic visit to the Republic in 2011 was a healing balm on the divisions between that country and the UK and has accelerated even stronger feelings of goodwill. To even contemplate a member of the Royal Family being part of the celebrations of the Easter Rising - albeit as part of an invited international delegation - shows how old emnities are being eroded.

And that is the central thrust of his argument. One-hundred years on we should have the maturity to celebrate either the Easter Rising or the establishment of Northern Ireland itself in a manner which both allows those who glorify the event to demonstrate their loyalties and recognises the sensitivities of those to whom the event is anathema.

Easter 1916 is a sacred date in the calendar for republicans and Sinn Fein doubtlessly will celebrate its centenary with more than customary gusto. Given the recent history of Northern Ireland there is unlikely to be much in the way of cross-community celebration or recognition.

That is why the Republic's attitude to the centenary is so important and why Charlie Flanagan's comments provide a template for action. They can set the celebrations in context and reach out the hand of friendship to unionists, many of whose ancestors were treated badly during the formative years of the Republic. The Executive at Stormont and recent Irish governments have appreciated the sensitivities of history, for example by joint attendance at Remembrance Day ceremonies, and must rise to the challenge again.

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