Why Some Councils Need to Relax over 2016 Commemorations

Over the past number of weeks, I have been thinking a bit about 2016.

How do we in a divided society remember and commemorate the centenaries of two hugely important events in our history, namely the Easter Rising and The Somme?

There are some who want to pursue a course of a hierarchy of commemorations. Last night Antrim and Newtownabbey council made a decision to support £50,000 for Somme events, whilst opposing money to commemorate the Easter Rising.

The rationale for this approach is set out by DUP Cllr, Nigel Kells;

You can’t compare the Somme to the Easter Rising.

I don’t think the Easter Rising is something that is suitable for the council to fund,

We just didn’t think this was appropriate for the residents and ratepayers.

The Somme would be for everyone. No one community can claim it – it’s not single identity like the Easter Rising could be.

This is an old line often trotted out by Unionist politicians,  that somehow the events should not be seen together and really, if you want to commemorate the event then Dublin is your destination.

The rationale behind these sorts of arguments were demolished by David McWilliams on Spotlight a few years ago which is worth a watch.

Even the leaders of the two Unionist parties have recognised the need to at the very least debate and examine the impact of the Easter Rising on Ireland.

I fail to see how we do this, if we create essentially a hierarchy, where one event gets swept under the rug and the other is lauded in tax payer funded events.

The simple fact is that both sides need to adopt a more relaxed and less hierarchical approach to 2016 commemorations.

As a republican, I am not asking Unionism to embrace the 1916 rising, but just simply engage with it and contribute to the debate about its merits and impact on the island of Ireland.

Likewise, republicans should be engaging with the Somme and the important impact that had on our politics and the formation of the Northern Ireland state.

In the South, we have seen over the last few years a rapid improvement on how they remember events like World War One, it isn’t perfect, but the trend is going in the right direction and the scandal of those who fought being totally forgotten has ended.

If Northern Ireland, is to become a society at ease with itself (an objective Arlene Foster stated when she became DUP leader) then in 2016, we have to become more relaxed about commemorations.

Sitting in council chambers, holding up funding for one side, whilst lauding it for others, is simply show boating in the mouth of an election.

The simple reality is that both events had a huge impact on politics and constitutional arrangements.

If you don’t want to embrace a particular event, then at the very least engage with it.

Stop the hierarchies and maybe, just maybe, we might emerge from 2016 a little more informed about how our island has developed over the past 100 years.

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