06 March 2006

Unionists refuse Easter Rising commemoration invite


06/03/2006 - 15:34:18

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s plans for Northern Ireland Assembly members to attend 1916 Easter Rising and Battle of the Somme commemorations were dealt a blow today after they were rejected by the Ulster Unionists.

The Government confirmed plans last week to invite MLAs from Stormont to witness a military ceremony at the GPO in Dublin’s O’Connell Street marking the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

MLAs will also be asked to attend a 90th anniversary ceremony in June for the thousands of soldiers killed in the First World War Battle of the Somme at the Islandbridge War Memorial in Dublin.

However, after a meeting of his party’s Assembly Group, Ulster Unionist parades spokesman Michael Copeland said while they welcomed the Irish Government’s plans to commemorate the Somme, they viewed the 1916 Easter Rising as an act of terrorism.

“The Easter insurgency which took place during the Great War led to the death of approximately 30 rebels, 200 British servicemen and over 200 innocent Dublin citizens,” the East Belfast MLA said.

“It took place at a time when 300,000 Irishmen of all religions were serving as volunteers in the British army, 50,000 of whom gave their lives.

"It heralded the end of the long and honourable tradition of constitutional Irish nationalism and brought to the fore the blood sacrifice ethos of armed republicanism which led directly to the partition of this island and the Irish Civil War.”

Mr Copeland said the UUP fully respected the right of people in the Republic to commemorate events in their history in whatever way they deemed appropriate.

He added: “We also recognise the very great steps being taken to honour the memory of the true heroes of 1916 (those serving in the 36th (Ulster), 16th (Irish), 10th (Irish) and other Commonwealth and Empire Forces).

“We regret that on this occasion we must decline Mr Ahern’s invitation.

“This Easter I will be calling to mind the death of my great uncle who fell at Gallipoli whilst serving with the Royal Dublin fusiliers and my wife’s grandfather who fought alongside all three Irish Divisions.”

The Government has said the main 1916 commemoration would have a military parade which would reflect the changing role of the Irish Defence Forces and their significant representation as United Nations peacekeepers abroad.

Garda involvement in UN missions would also be reflected in the parade.

Details of the Islandbridge commemoration for the Battle of the Somme will be released soon.

Unionists have been critical of plans in Northern Ireland by Derry City Council to mark the 1916 Rising.

After the council approved plans for a commemoration, DUP Assembly member Willie Hay said unionists in the city could not participate in any ceremony.

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