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McGuinness Somme invite part of healing

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 16/05/2016

Deputy Minister Martin McGuinness
Deputy Minister Martin McGuinness

It is encouraging that the Deputy First Minister is not rejecting out of hand an invitation to attend a Somme memorial service on July 1 at the Ulster Tower in France.

The Somme was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, when the 36th (Ulster) Division suffered 5,500 dead, wounded or missing during the first two days of the attack.

The fate of the 36th (Ulster) Division, when so many young Ulstermen were killed or wounded, has cast a long and sombre shadow.

It was formed in September 1914 from the Ulster Volunteer Force just a year after that organisation was raised to oppose Home Rule in Ireland, and the symbolism of this has lingered long down the years.

The sensitivity about this on both sides is obvious. Invitations should be about making the right gestures, both in the issue and acceptance of them.

There is already encouraging progress on the wider subject of Remembrance, and also a growing awareness of the role of so many Irishmen and women in the fight against German aggression in two world conflicts, and in other wars.

The casualties were enormous. During the first day of the Somme the Army suffered nearly 58,000 casualties, including more than 19,000 dead.

Commemoration of such bloody events needs to be handled with great care, and there is an onus on those who issue invitations to make sure that there is nothing about the event that might cause offence to those invited, while not diluting the nature of the event itself.

Equally, there is an onus on those who accept the invitation to make themselves fully aware of the event and what it commemorates, as well as their willingness to be seen in attendance.

This is a matter of acknowledging something that is of vital importance to the other side. Attendance should be an acknowledgment of, and respect for, those feelings.

Such occasions are difficult for many of the people involved, but they are also necessary. It is also crucial for everyone involved to be fully aware that the proper handling of these sensitive and important commemorations are part of the choreography of moving things on.

No doubt these are the kind of factors that Martin McGuinness will be considering about his invitation to attend the Somme commemoration.

It is to be hoped that he will accept it.

Belfast Telegraph

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