Belfast Telegraph

Modern Ireland a place where differing views are respected

By Charlie Flanagan

This Easter Sunday the Irish State, as it does every year, will mark the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in recognition of a seminal moment on Ireland's journey to independence.

This year's commemorations are particularly significant as they mark the centenary of the events which had such a profound impact, in many different ways, on the subsequent history of this island.

The interpretation and legacy of the Rising remains a contested issue, north and south. It is, therefore, all the more important that we seize the opportunity of a century's distance to respectfully remember the events of 1916, to reflect on what has been achieved in the succeeding century and to re-imagine the future for the generations to come.

I know that for some in Ireland, north and south, the unjustifiable association of the Rising with later violent events has created an understandable reticence about such commemorations.

The Irish Government utterly rejects the spurious claim of the tiny minority who would seek to use the memory of this historic event to justify violence on this island.

The Easter Rising happened in a very particular historical context during a violent and tumultuous decade of events, from the trenchant opposition to Home Rule - as set out in the Ulster Covenant - to the War of Independence and the tragedy of the Irish Civil War. The historical fact of the Rising cannot - and should not - be used to seek to legitimise attacks on citizens, or on our law and order services, actions which are entirely abhorrent and unacceptable in a democratic society.

We might all wish that the conflict of a century ago had not taken place, but it falls to us to commemorate what actually happened and to sensitively reflect on its effects on our times.

What happened in Easter 1916 was not a singular experience. Its participants had diverse motivations; its impact was felt not only by the combatants, but even more by the ordinary women, men and children of Dublin; and its legacy was complex and profound. Our 2016 programme seeks to reflect that diversity and complexity.

It includes a parade and State ceremony on Sunday in Dublin. The parade, led by the Irish Defence Forces, will highlight Ireland's long and proud history of peacekeeping and will also include representatives of the emergency services, in recognition of their vital role in times of crisis.

The ceremony, at the GPO, will see a reading of the Proclamation, a wreath-laying in memory of all those who died and a prayer for continued peace and reconciliation.

An interfaith service on April 3 in Glasnevin Cemetery will remember all those who lost their lives during the Easter Rising; the rebels who fought, the British soldiers, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, the Royal Irish Constabulary and innocent civilians who were caught up in the events of 1916.

On April 10, the 18th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a special event, Rising To Reconciliation, will reflect on the 100-year journey of reconciliation on the island of Ireland and the democratic expression of the will of the majority on this island who voted for peace in 1998. These, alongside the ceremony on May 26 to mark the deaths of British soldiers who died in the Rising, are just some of the many events which together comprise a new and more complex reflection on the history of the island.

One hundred years on the commemorations of 1916 will also include a respectful programme of events to mark the terrible loss of life during the Battle of the Somme - a tragedy that affected communities all over this island.

This reflects the Ireland of today, a very different Ireland to that of 50, or 100, years ago, a modern Ireland that is comfortable with its history in all its complexity and mindful of the diversity of traditions on this island.

In today's Ireland relations north and south, east and west, are the robust and mutually respectful bonds of neighbours and friends.

I hope and believe that these close partnerships and friendships will be deepened in the years ahead by an even greater understanding and respectful recognition of each other's perspectives on the past.

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

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