Ex-soldier says 'Unionists don't own the Somme' and have no right to exclude Sinn Fein's McGuinness
Ex Royal Irish Ranger turned peace worker slams fury at memorial invite to SF chief as ridiculous
A former Royal Irish Ranger has hit out at the "lunacy" of people criticising the invitation to Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to attend Battle of the Somme centenary commemorations.
West Belfast man Glenn Bradley, who served in 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Rangers, said Mr McGuinness had every right to attend any of the events.
"Of course the Deputy First Minister should be at the commemoration ceremony," Mr Bradley said.
"The Somme doesn't belong to unionists or nationalists - it happened before partition.
"For elements of unionist society to try and claim that the Battle of the Somme belongs to them is lunacy.
"No individual can claim to represent the dead of the Somme. And for some in Northern Ireland to adopt a petty attitude of ownership of the Somme is very foolish.
"I've been to the Somme, and I wish some of the people spouting about it here in Northern Ireland would walk as I have walked along the rows and rows of graves."
The 49-year-old grew up in Woodvale. He was eager to fight the IRA and joined the Army at 16, but instead of serving at home, he saw operational service in conflict zones across the globe, including Iraq and Lebanon.
The former Ulster Unionist Party official is now an activist with Veterans for Peace UK, an anti-war organisation set up to challenge the more militaristic approaches to politics.
"In the 21st century, war is not the answer," he said. In 1990, Glenn's uncle, RUC constable Louis Robinson, was murdered by the IRA.
The policeman was tortured and shot execution-style, before his body was booby-trapped and them dumped along the border with the Republic.
But the memory of the horror of that event has not stopped Mr Bradley working towards peace or from talking to his former republican enemies.
"People have to talk to their former enemies," he said. "Nazis, Japanese - history has many examples of this process.
"It's no different to what I'm doing today. We've all created suffering. I'm about eradicating suffering."
The former soldier also sent a trenchant message to Northern Ireland's newly-elected political leaders about the path that society should now take.
"What we need in Northern Ireland is a Bill of Rights, political stability and improvements in the quality of life for people who live here," he said.
"Sinn Fein and the DUP have been returned as the two biggest political parties in the Assembly, it is now up to them to deliver for the people."