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Our history goes hand in hand with hopes for future

THE state visits of President Higgins to the UK and Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland have had a deep and positive impact on British-Irish relations.

Both visits allowed us to celebrate how far we have come together. But the visits have also done something else. They have set a new standard on how we commemorate together.

The laying of a wreath by Queen Elizabeth at the Garden of Remembrance in 2011, and the bowing of her head, recognised – in a highly symbolic manner – the sacrifice of those who fought for Irish independence.


The welcome extended to President Higgins on his state visit to the UK was a further step on the road to reconciliation.

So those who believe that the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016 should be in some way off limits for the British monarchy are, to my mind, showing an ungenerous and narrow attitude.

Of course some will make petty political points to fire up their base. But in putting together the commemoration for 2016 we need to have an inclusive approach.

More importantly, there are new contexts to the matter.

The first context is linked to the Good Friday Agreement. Both the British and Irish governments act as constitutional guarantors of the Agreement.

It requires us to have regard to all traditions on these islands, and that is especially true when commemorating our past.

But the second context is the decade of commemoration that is currently upon us.

The decade 1912 to 1922 was an extraordinary decade in British-Irish history.

To properly understand this decade we are required to think and act differently – to think of the other in what we do.

I'm sure there will be an international element to the 2016 ceremonies. All of the 27 other members of the EU will be invited to attend.

Countries such as the US, Australia, Canada, Argentina and other friends of Ireland will also be invited.

But 1916 is by its nature complex. Some argue that the Rising is the moment of Irish independence; others look to events that followed.

There can be no doubt that what followed 1916 changed the history of these islands.

It is often said that the British never remember, while the Irish never forget. There is a lot of truth in that.

I hope that in preparing for 2016 we can genuinely ask our people to recognise the sacrifice for our freedom made by the men and women of that time.

It is right to recognise their courage and their vision – but to understand it in today's terms.


Reconciliation is still required between the orange and the green. And you don't achieve that by being ungracious or selective in whom you invite to Ireland. History should teach us that.

If the British Government and/or members of the royal family attend the 2016 commemoration they do so to show respect not just for the historical event, but also for the contribution made by Irish people in Britain.

In commemorating together our shared history is properly understood. What Ireland and Britain are now doing is an example to the rest of the world.