Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein Speaker credit to post

Editor's Viewpoint

As far as history goes, the unionist and nationalist people of Northern Ireland live in parallel universes. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in attitudes towards seminal events which took place 100 years ago. Each community remembers the Somme or the Easter Rising in virtual isolation, shunning each other's narrative of that formative period in our history.

Given the differing outlooks of the main political parties in the community it is astonishing that the most mature lead in what could be a divisive period - just a couple of weeks before Easter Sunday, the main focal point of the Easter Rising commemorations - should come at Stormont.

And even more surprising, some people may feel, that at the helm of the initiative is a member of Sinn Fein, the Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin.

While he would not take full credit for the balanced series of events taking place this year at Stormont, there is no doubt that he had considerable influence on the programme. It began last night with a balanced and nuanced lecture on the Easter Rising - and will be followed before the election with another on the Somme - which not only detailed the rebel casualties but also those of the British Army, police and civilians, a toll often left out of that history.

But it was a little personal side from Mr McLaughlin that best summed up the problem with history here. He admitted that he was in his 60s before he became really aware of the sacrifice of nationalists in the First World War. It is shocking that such a blinkered approach to the past exists, but that is probably the norm rather than the exception in all parts of Ireland.

It is only in recent years that Dublin governments have openly acknowledged the role people from that part of the island played in the First World War. Previously they had been airbrushed from history, just as the civilian, police and military casualties of the Easter Rising were virtually ignored.

As he approaches the end of his term as Speaker of the Assembly, it is proper to pay tribute to Mr McLaughlin, who has shown himself to be a fair-minded, even-handed holder of the post. He is not seeking re-election to the Assembly but he has left a fine legacy to the house by initiating and developing this inclusive approach to important historical anniversaries.

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