Sinn Féin may attend Battle of the Somme centenary commemorations
The Lord Mayor of Belfast Arder Carson has revealed that Sinn Féin will consider whether to attend events in the city to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest in history. It took place during the First World War on both sides of the River Somme in France from 1 July – 18 November 1916. Over one million men were either killed or wounded.
Yesterday, the British Legion hosted a ceremony in Belfast to mark the 99th anniversary of the first day of the Battle.
Earlier in the day, Mr Carson, a Sinn Féin politician, took part in a lower key event at Belfast City Hall.
He laid a laurel wreath at the cenotaph at the Hall. It was an act that continued approaches adopted by former Sinn Féin mayors such as Alex Maskey, Tom Hartley, Niall O Donnghaile and Mairtin O’Muilleoir.
In 2013, Mr O’Muilleoir became the first Sinn Féin mayor to attend a Remembrance Day service at the cenotaph.
It was a big step as Remembrance Day is a day observed by the British public to mark the end of the First World War and pay respects to British soldiers.
Irish Republicans have seen the British military as the enemy for large sections of the two countries’ histories.
If Mr Carson was to attend the centenary commemorations next year it would be the first time a Sinn Féin mayor has attended any Battle of the Somme commemorations.
It is also to be noted that Ireland was still a part of Britain in 1916 and approximately 250,000 Irishmen fought for the British during the war.
Relations between Ireland and Britain are as good as they have ever been but it would still be a huge symbolic gesture for Sinn Féin to take part in the commemorations.
Mr Carson is open to the suggestion that he would attend the commemorations but stressed that he would assess the plans before making his decision.
He said: “These things we keep under consideration all of the time, there are discussions and engagements all the time in relation to these type of events.
“I thought it was important for me to be here today as a republican in Belfast city and as mayor of the city as a mark of respect for everyone who lost someone in the First World War.”
Next year also sees the centenary of the Easter Rising. Mr Carson says that both are seminal events that shaped the history of Ireland.
He said: “They are both going to be marked in the city, they are both going to be marked with respect and dignity.
“I would prefer to see those as inclusive events. I know that is our intention around the 1916 (Rising) event, that it is as inclusive as possible, and I would assume that it will be the same in relation to the Somme.”
If the events are inclusive as Mr Carson hopes it will bode well for the future with regards to relations among the citizens in Belfast and further afield.