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Thousands gather to remember war dead

Tommorow thousands will gather at cenotaphs and war memorials across the UK to remember those who lost their lives in the Armed Forces.

Poppies will be laid, the Last Post played and silences observed on the stroke of 11am as former and current soldiers come together to mark those who gave their lives in war.

For many this year’s event will be all the more poignant because, as well as remembering the dead from two world wars, memories will turn to those who died much more recently in conflict in Afghanistan.

Services will also be taking place across Northern Ireland.

However, as so often in the province, the event carries other connotations. The wearing of the poppy continues to be viewed by many as a political symbol.

But with the province now moving towards a more peaceful future, shouldn’t everyone here now support the poppy?

After all, Northern Ireland has suffered as much as any other part of Britain in the Afghanistan conflict.

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Should Remembrance Sunday be viewed as an inclusive event for all of our communities to take part in?

The Royal British Legion, the organisation responsible for Remembrance Sunday, has called on people here to shift from the notion that the poppy is a political symbol representing support for the British Army and towards the stance that it commemorates all soldiers from all conflicts who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

A spokesman from the Royal British Legion said the poppy is for those people who have given their lives for a greater cause.

“The last thing a poppy is, is a political symbol, that is a point we are arguing with the British National Party at the moment which is using the poppy as a political symbol.

“It is a cross-community symbol of remembrance and not a political symbol in any way.”

Comments from the First and Deputy First Minister on the issue, however, reveal division at the top of the political structure in Northern Ireland.

While Peter Robinson has called for everyone to wear the poppy, Martin McGuinness has never worn one.

Mr McGuinness’s party colleague, Alex Maskey MLA, said while he supports the work of the Royal British Legion he has never worn a poppy because of its connections with the British Army.

The poppy has become a divisive emblem over the years. And while the Royal British Legion has moved to distance itself from

the sectarianism that enshrined much of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, its Coleraine branch has come to prominence in recent years for electing convicted loyalists to top posts.

At the time, disgruntled members said they felt under threat from fellow members to remain silent despite their opposition to the outcome of the voting process and the Royal British Legion then refused to comment on the matter.

More recently, the organisation rejected suggestions of a connection with loyalist paramilitaries, warning it will not take part in this year’s Remembrance Day parade in Bangor should loyalists try to take part in the event.

Controversy still surrounds the annual Poppy Appeal with the majority of the nationalist community making a conscious decision not to wear it, while those who do have come under fire for supporting the Royal British Legion.

Last year, X Factor hopeful Eoghan Quigg received death threats after he appeared on the television programme wearing a

poppy and performed on a charity single to raise cash for British soldiers, while a self-proclaimed republican has written on a political blog to defend his decision to wear a poppy.

“I wear the poppy because the battle against Nazism was a battle fought on behalf of humanity, and not just on behalf of Britain,” he said.

Leader of the Alliance Party David Ford said he believes it is unfortunate the poppy has become politicised and said that commemorating fallen soldiers should be open to all sides of the community. He called for more work to be done to make the event inclusive of everyone in Northern Ireland.

A spokesman from the SDLP said: “The choice of whether to wear or not wear a poppy or any other symbol is a purely personal one which everyone should respect.

“SDLP representatives have worn the poppy when attending Remembrance Day ceremonies.”

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