Thursday 23 November 2017

Joint Irish-British commemoration of WWI proposed

Lesley-Anne McKeown

THERE should be a joint British-Irish approach to commemorating the First World War, a new report has said.

The document, which was presented to a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Glasgow, has recommended that a number of significant centenary anniversaries be marked with joint events over the next decade.

Report author Frank Feighan TD said: "Commemoration of the past presents dangers. Risks exist that certain groups will attempt to exploit the anniversaries in a way which further divides us, undermining the progress achieved in recent years.

"But it presents opportunities as well. If history makes us who we are, surely a sensitive and inclusive examination of our shared past might serve to deepen mutual understanding between different people and communities, and to foster the ongoing process of reconciliation on the island of Ireland, and between our islands."

Mr Feighan, chairman of the assembly's committee on Sovereign Affairs, produced the report after a year-long consultation with a range of academics, political groups and community bodies here and in the UK.

One of the key recommendations is to establish a cross-border educational initiative to arrange, on a single day on an annual basis, exchanges and the teaching of the history of a particular anniversary.

Mr Feighan said the committee had been heartened by the peaceful passing of events to commemorate the signing of the Ulster Covenant last month. He suggested that authorities and others involved in commemorative activities could learn from the manner in which the sensitive event was managed.

He added: "2012 is the first year in a decade which sees a number of very significant anniversaries in Irish and British history.

"These include the centenaries of the introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill in Westminster, the Home Rule Crisis and the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Dublin Lockout, the establishment of the Irish Volunteers (which is considered the birth of the Irish Defence forces, Oglaigh na hEireann), the outbreak of the First World War, the Easter Rising of 1916, the War of Independence, the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and the partition of Ireland.

"These momentous events changed the course of Irish history and relations between the peoples of our islands fo the rest of the century."

A fund to support joint commemorations will be set up.

The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly was established in 1990 as a link between members of the Houses of Parliament and the Houses of the Oireachtas.

In recent years, membership has been expanded to include representatives of the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly, the High Court of Tynwald (Isle of Man) and the States of Guernsey and Jersey.

Two plenary sessions, attended by 68 members, are held every year alternately in Britain and Ireland with ongoing work by four committees.

Co-chair of the assembly Joe McHugh has also pledged support for the recommendations.

He said: "This report on a very sensitive range of subjects merits serious consideration by the British and Irish governments. I particularly welcome the proposal to develop a joint approach to the British-Irish dimension to WWI and I will raise this with my colleagues in Dail Eireann and with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny when we discuss the outcomes of this 45th plenary."

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