Belfast Telegraph

We must learn from bloody past

By Duncan Morrow

This is the pivotal year in our decade of centenaries. If the importance of historic events is measured by their impact on politics, culture and people, then the Easter Rising and Battle of the Somme still radiate over Ireland, north and south.

These have not faded into historic events, but 100 years later are still used as emblems that define and justify political actions.

A shared date does not eliminate the differences. The Somme was the sacrifice of thousands of young lives in a global war. The Rising was a willingness of a small group to fight to the death for Irish independence.

But, for Alliance, the tragedy has been that they, wrapped up with the Ulster Covenant and the War of Independence, have been used to give a terrible permission for violence in the politics of Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was essential, because the tradition of resolving differences by violence had proved such a disaster.

We should not commemorate Irish history without looking at the consequent political violence. As the GFA said: "We can best honour those who died, were injured and their loved ones through a new beginning, firmly dedicated to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all."

Yet the message of the GFA - reconciliation instead of hatred, peace not violence - has never been formally marked nor awarded the same pomp. Were it to be taken seriously, it could be understood as a watershed, overturning perceived history.

Instead we are marking the centenaries as if they remain role model events in our history.

Alliance's approach to commemorating this year will be to uphold the principles of reconciliation and the rejection of violence.

We will mourn the sacrifice of the Somme and will acknowledge the importance of the Rising.

But we will never glamorise or ignore violence without reference to its continuing consequences. We mark these events to learn, not to celebrate.

  • Duncan Morrow is an Alliance candidate for South Belfast in May's Assembly election

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