Belfast Telegraph

Let us ensure 2016 Easter Rising events do not become unnecessarily divisive

By Charlie Flanagan

Our peace process has transformed the lives of people throughout the island of Ireland for the better. Marking significant centenaries, and in particular the seminal event of the 1916 Rising, in an inclusive and sensitive way can contribute to fostering reconciliation and greater understanding. This is in all our interests.

The initial statement by the government's advisory group on centenary commemorations made clear: "Commemoration should not ignore differences and divisions. The goal of inclusiveness is best achieved, not by trying for an enforced common interest or universal participation in commemorations for events such as the 1916 Rising or the opening of the parliament in Northern Ireland, but by encouraging multiple and plural commemorations which remember the past while ensuring, as far as possible, that commemoration does not re-ignite old tensions."

And so let us neither sanitise our commemorations in a way that distorts history nor coat them or ourselves in saccharine or sackcloth. Equally, however, let us seek to ensure that the Ireland 2016 commemorative programme does not become an unnecessarily divisive issue.

The different traditions on this island will have differing historical perspectives but we can at least strive to respect the plurality of our narratives. Since the beginning of the decade of centenaries in 2012, considerable effort has been invested in commemorating key events in a more inclusive and historically accurate way.   

We can continue to build on the integrity and openness of the government's approach to commemorations over the past number of years.

This has included the Taoiseach and I attending Remembrance Day ceremonies in Northern Ireland. And next year, while the commemoration of the Rising, Ireland 2016, will clearly be the centrepiece of the year, I will also be marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme in which thousands of Irish people of all political hues died and which has particular resonance among unionists. 

Northern Ireland itself will have to mark its own centenary in five years' time. Again this will present significant challenges for them. It is in our mutual best interests to work closely together to encourage a collective North/South approach to respecting each other's key commemorations.

We need to continue to protect and to invest in our North/South relationship because, looking to the next 100 years, as Ireland 2016 invites us to do, we have no other more important, more immediate political relationship.   

Clearly, some of the events planned will be moments for national, rather than international, commemoration, as may be the case for the Easter Sunday programme and the actual centenary of the start of the Rising on April 24. However, as a global island, it is important that we mark this significant centenary with the international friends and partners we have built up over the past 100 years and who will be vital to us as we embark on our next 100.

Charlie Flanagan TD is the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

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