President urges fostering of reconciliation during decade of centenaries


THE OPPORTUNITY to foster reconciliation and deepen mutual understanding provided by the current decade of centenaries should be seized, President Michael D Higgins has urged.

Mr Higgins, in a lecture at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster in Derry yesterday, said that “while recognising that different people can hold differing interpretations of the same events, it will be important that the commemoration of these anniversaries is carried out in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect”.

The centenaries being commemorated include the Ulster Covenant of 1912, the 1916 Easter Rising, the first World War, the War of Independence and the Civil War.

“Historical accuracy, too, will be a cornerstone of commemoration, and historians will have a vital role to play in ensuring that intellectual rigour prevails over any efforts towards polemical distortion,” said Mr Higgins, who was on his second visit to Derry since he was elected.

The President said he was very conscious that this decade of centenaries was not at the top of the agenda for many people.

“They are much more preoccupied by the personal struggle of coping with the severe impact of the current recession.

In these difficult times, when the economy on the island faces many difficulties, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of despair and despondency,” he said.

“People are naturally concerned and worried about the future, especially about the employment prospects for the younger generation.

“I know that both administrations on the island are working very hard, separately and together, to put in place policies and measures that promote economic growth and boosts employment,” he added.

“As part of these efforts, it makes eminent sense to broaden and deepen North/South co-operation with a view to improving the quality of services to citizens on both sides of the Border and, in this time of scarcity, to optimise the economies of scale that come from a shared and joined up approach to providing those services.”

President Higgins said that co-operation, mutual understanding and respect are themes which must be returned to.

“As we all learn to live on this island in peace and partnership, we must also look forward and plan for a shared future; one which fully includes all people regardless of their social class, community affiliation or ethnic identity; and one in which our citizens do not live segregated lives but share the public space in harmony and equality.”

The President added: “The legacy of history has conferred undeniable differences between our two main traditions – both in terms of our sense of identity and political aspirations.”