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Monday 27 February 2017

Cowen warns dissidents not to hijack 1916 centenary plan

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

THE Government said yesterday it would not allow centenary commemorations of the 1916 Rising to be hijacked, amid warnings that the event could be used by dissident republicans in seeking new recruits.

Culture minister for the North Nelson McCausland said the commemoration of 1916 needed to be handled very carefully, as he said there was a danger of it being used as a dissident republican recruiting ground.

But Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Government would not allow the 1916 events to be taken over by groups that were not interested in marking it for peaceful means.

"There will be those who oppose any such reflection -- who will seek to hijack history, to fight again the old battles, to re-establish hostilities and to perpetuate division.

"Some will look to use the memory of the dead to bring suffering to the living. To them I say: 'Count me out'," he said.

"Count out all of the people of Ireland -- North, South, East and West. We are united now in moving forward together to a peaceful future," he added.

The warning came as David Cameron visited Belfast yesterday for his first visit to the North since becoming British prime minister last week.

Mr Cameron said his government's commitment to the North and the peace process was absolute. He also suggested cuts in the North's budget could be deferred to next year.

During the visit, it emerged that Mr Cowen had been invited to Downing Street by the Conservative Party leader for talks on the North.

A government spokesman said no time or date had been fixed for the meeting, but the pair would also meet at the next European Council meeting in Brussels.

Respect

Speaking at the Institute for British-Irish Studies conference in UCD, Mr Cowen said the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme will be celebrated in Dublin as well as Belfast in 2016.

He said he expects events of Easter 1916 will be commemorated with respect and dignity in every part of the island.

"That, I respectfully submit, is a challenge that must be considered by the leaders of unionism," he said. Mr Cowen said many in the North legitimately viewed the period between 1912 and 1922 "from a quite different angle to the direct successors of those who came to power in Dublin or in Belfast at that time. That, too, should give us all pause for measured reflection," he said.

Mr Cowen said the Government would be consulting with all groups interested in commemorating the country's history, "in all its dimensions, with pride and with respect".

He said this would include all of the political parties on the island, as well as leaders of civic society and cultural institutions.

Mr Cowen said the forthcoming decade of commemorations, "if well prepared and carefully considered", should enable everybody on this island to "complete the journey towards lasting peace and reconciliation".

Irish Independent

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