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SDLP leader Ritchie deserves praise for poppy stance

The decision by SDLP leader and South Down MP Margaret Ritchie to wear a poppy for Remembrance Sunday showed that she is committed to reconciliation and a shared society.

No doubt there will be people and politicians criticising the nationalist leader on her decision to wear a poppy, but she is to be commended for her leadership in paying respect to the war dead - many of whom were Irish. Wearing the poppy is a mark of respect and not any form of glorification for British military wrongs, as some people would like to believe. For too long the local parties have made a political football out of wearing the poppy.

If we are ever to live as equals in a fully-shared society, then respect towards other traditions, faiths, religions and cultures is part of that process. Wearing a poppy is a free decision of choice and the fact that the SDLP leader has worn a poppy is clearly showing her respect to the war dead.

Margaret Ritchie wishes to move Northern Ireland away from the old political and sectarian past and onto the new shared society, whereby - irrespective of political, religious or other opinion - we are all equals.

Ms Ritchie has sent out a clear message to nationalists that wearing the poppy is simply paying a mark of respect to all the war dead. Her decision sets the mark for other political parties to lead and work towards true reconciliation and a shared society - not the one of past sectarian division.

PATRICK CLARKE

Dundrum, Co Down

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