This year marks the 91st anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, an event commemorated by republicans throughout Ireland by the wearing of the Easter Lily. There will be numerous commemorations across the country to mark the event. The speeches accompanying the numerous commemorations are likely to include reference to the new political dispensation that is now upon us, where all significant strands of unionism and nationalism/ republicanism on the island are prepared to enter new political relationships which can only lead to an enhanced appreciation and understanding of opinions on all sides.
For republicans, Easter has a particular resonance, a time for remembering those who have died in pursuit of the cause of Irish freedom and reunification. Easter 2007 is an exciting time for republicanism; with Sinn Fein receiving the party’s strongest ever electoral mandate in the six counties a matter of weeks ago, the party looks ahead to fresh elections in the 26 counties in a matter of weeks, with the prospect of further expanding the electoral appeal of republicanism throughout the island.
At this point, I would like to acknowledge those from outside the nationalist/ republican tradition whose attitudes towards the Easter commemorative period range from indifference to outright hostility.
Republicans have a duty to develop a further understanding of the perceptions and attitudes of unionism- as do unionists in relation to the perceptions and attitudes of republicanism. I believe that republicans have begun to make a concerted effort to do so in recent years in relation to unionist attitudes towards the commemoration of those who have fought and died for a British cause- be it in Ireland through membership of one of the many British military regiments or the RUC, or abroad through involvement in one of Britain’s wars- most notably, of course, the two World Wars.
Whilst many steps have been taken in the past decade by Irish nationalists to show a shared acknowledgement of the sacrifice of Irishmen involved in the two World Wars, it will obviously prove more difficult for republicans/ nationalists to acknowledge the entitlement of unionists to remember those whose service to Britain involved furthering the maintenance of British rule in Ireland.
It will be foolish to expect unionist attendance at Easter commemorations this week- just as it would to expect republicans to similarly attend commemorations to Britain’s war dead- but we should be moving towards a phase in which mutual respect is afforded each community to remember their fallen in an era where all sides are seemingly determined that no names be added to the long lists of those already perished.