Commemoration of 1916 a time to respect pluralism

Centenary is an opportunity to respect the island’s different traditions

Charlie Flanagan: “The different traditions on this island will have differing historical perspectives but we can at least strive to respect the plurality of our narratives”

Charlie Flanagan: “The different traditions on this island will have differing historical perspectives but we can at least strive to respect the plurality of our narratives”

 

Our peace process has transformed the lives of people throughout the island of Ireland for the better. Marking significant centenaries, and in particular the seminal event of the 1916 Rising, in an inclusive and sensitive way can contribute to fostering reconciliation and greater understanding. This is in all our interests.

The initial statement by the Government’s advisory group on centenary commemorations made clear:

“Commemoration should not ignore differences and divisions. The goal of inclusiveness is best achieved, not by trying for an enforced common interest or universal participation in commemorations for events such as the 1916 Rising or the opening of the parliament in Northern Ireland, but by encouraging multiple and plural commemorations which remember the past while ensuring, as far as possible, that commemoration does not reignite old tensions.”

So let us neither sanitise our commemorations of the 1916 Rising in a way that distorts history nor coat them or ourselves in saccharine or sackcloth. Equally, let us seek to ensure that the Ireland 2016 commemorative programme does not become an unnecessarily divisive issue.

The different traditions on this island will have differing historical perspectives but we can at least strive to respect the plurality of our narratives. Since the beginning of the decade of centenaries in 2012, considerable effort has been invested in commemorating key events in a more inclusive and historically accurate way. We can continue to build on the integrity and openness of the Government’s approach to commemorations over the past number of years.

Battle of the Somme

This has included the Taoiseach and I attending Remembrance Day ceremonies in Northern Ireland. And next year, while the commemoration of the Rising, Ireland 2016, will clearly be the centrepiece of the year, I will also be marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, in which thousands of Irish of all political hues died and which has particular resonance among unionist communities in Ireland but was an event which affected all of the island.

Northern Ireland itself will have to mark its own centenary in five years’ time. Again this will present significant challenges for it. It is in our mutual best interests to work closely together to encourage a collective North-South approach to respecting each other’s key commemorations. In this regard, I am again guided by the wise words of the advisory group on centenary commemorations. Our shared aim should be “to broaden sympathies, without having to abandon loyalties”.

We need to continue to protect and to invest in our North-South relationship because, looking to the next 100 years, as Ireland 2016 invites us to do, we have no other more important, more immediate political relationship.

Global audience

We need to look further afield also. Ireland 2016

will take place in a global context, as the Rising itself did, and it will provide the opportunity to present to a global audience a profile of Ireland’s achievements. In this sense, the centenary of the Rising is a time of great opportunity.

We have many positive stories to tell abroad in terms of the past 100 years, of our creativity, our peace process, our contribution to peace-keeping and to the fight against global hunger, and the achievements of our people at home and abroad. We also have a good story to tell about our economic recovery, which is now taking hold and which has been hard-won. And we take pride in the achievement of many talented Irish people who have left our shores. We nevertheless want them to come back home and Ireland 2016 is an opportunity to reach out and reconnect with many of these.

This global messaging and outreach will be the work of our Embassies abroad over the coming 18 months. Many are already involved in detailed planning for a range of commemorative, public diplomacy, cultural and community events. In my travels abroad I have sensed a keen interest among the Irish diaspora to be part of this significant moment of national commemoration and reflection.

We will need to consider also whether, in terms of the domestic Ireland 2016 programme, there may be events where it will be appropriate to invite our international partners, at a suitable level, to join with us to reflect on the events of 1916 and to mark this key moment on Ireland’s path to independence and place among the world’s nations.

Clearly, some of the events planned will be moments for national, rather than international, commemoration, as may be the case for the Easter Sunday programme on March 27th, 2016 and the centenary of the start of the Rising on April 24th, 2016. However, as a global island, it is important that we mark this very significant centenary with the international friends and partners we have built up over the past 100 years and who will be vital to us as we embark on our next 100.

Charlie Flanagan is Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

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