Monday, March 06, 2006


Ahern wants 1916 for unionists too

The parade will pass the GPO, scene of the RisingThe Taoiseach Bertie Ahern intends to link the planned commemorations of the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme in an attempt to encourage unionists to participate in both events, the Sunday Independent reports.

The Taoiseach's initiative is seen as significant after riots forced the abandonment of the Love Ulster parade in Dublin last weekend.

The Sunday Independent has revealed interesting information on the cause of the riots as well as Ahern's efforts to reach out towards unionists:

"The Sunday Independent can reveal that calls to engage in violence to stop the Northern Protestant marchers were posted on an extreme republican website last December.

"Gardai now believe that responsibility for the rioting lies with a group of violent young 'republicans' who split from Republican Sinn Fein last year.

"The break-away group has been attracting dozens of teenagers, in Dublin and the North, where they congregate under the guise of Celtic soccer supporters.

"Yesterday Mr Ahern told the Sunday independent that while his Government was aware that unionists may not wish to attend his planned joint commemorations of the Rising and the Battle of the Somme, he hoped his invitations would be "recognised for the spirit of friendship and mutual respect in which they are extended".

"There is a distinct possibility, however, that some unionist politicians, many of whom are also members of the Orange Order, will take up Mr Ahern's offer. It could result in the potent symbolism of an Orange sash on the reviewing stand outside the GPO during the Rising commemorations next month.

"Mr Ahern also said that his Government was "looking at ways of accommodating" the 'Love Ulster' group in its "need to have its voice heard in Dublin".

"It is understood the Government is considering the establishment of a forum, possibly at Dublin Castle, where the group can express its views and feelings."

"The Taoiseach told the Sunday Independent: "The Irish Government is committed to respecting all traditions on this island equally.

"It also recognises that developing a greater understanding of our shared history, in all of its diversity, is essential to developing greater understanding and building a shared future.

"The Government has announced plans to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising in Dublin at Easter and to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme with a ceremony at the war memorial in Islandbridge on July 1. These events will be complemented by other events to mark these anniversaries, such as recently announced commemorative stamps.

"These initiatives form part of an overall programme that reflects the shared history and shared experience of the people of this island, from all traditions, in the year of 1916.

"It has been the practice to invite representatives from all walks of life in Northern Ireland to State occasions. This is a gesture of both friendship and respect.

"The Irish Government will invite Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Northern Ireland to attend the commemorations for the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and of the Battle of the Somme.

"The Government is, of course, aware that representatives of the unionist tradition in Northern Ireland may not wish to attend some or indeed all of these events. It is equally recognised that the events being commemorated are very important to many people in Northern Ireland.

"It is hoped that the invitations will be recognised for the spirit of friendship and mutual respect in which they are extended and that both traditions on the island will participate in at least some of the programme being developed."

It's good to see things are progressing nicely in relation to tracking down those responsible for the Dublin riots. As for the Taoiseach's efforts to get unionists involved, I think it's a sensible thing to do although I remain sceptical about whether or not there will be much interest in it from the unionist community. Still, it is important to at least try. After all, when the commemorations take place in April in Dublin there will be Polish people, Chinese people, Nigerians etc. all lining up to watch the events so I hardly think unionists would be out of place. While it is an event marking 1916, the onus should be on reflecting the diversity of the Irish Republic here in the 21st century.

I also support efforts to mark the Battle of the Sommes and I would certainly hope to see unionists taking part in these commemorations which ought to transcend nationalism and unionism and which are incredibly significant to all of us.

My own view is that very few if any unionists will take up the offer to participate in the marking of 1916, although I think unionists will agree to mark the Battle of the Sommes commemorations at Islandbridge. I would like to see unionists take part in the Easter Rising commemorations but I understand that it's a difficult and complex situation and I would respect whatever decision they come to.

I personally see the parades marking the 90th anniversary of the Rising passing off peacefully and I think they will provide a good day out for the people of Ireland. I hope that this is the case anyway.

"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." - L.P. Hartley


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