I’m writing this piece to address some of the partial and at times inaccurate reporting of my decision not to attend a remembrance event in Lurgan this weekend (Sunday).
The nature of the event, in my view, is not inclusive of the entire community and, as I have already indicated, the (direct) involvement of the British military in such events, makes it inappropriate for me to attend.
Let me begin by saying that I have the utmost respect for all those who lost their lives in WW1 and WW2 – all of whom were courageous, many of whom lost their lives leaving grieving families behind. This is something I do not underestimate, not least given my own family’s history.
My grandfather Dennis was an RAF ground trooper and Lance Corporal, who swam and threw the hammer for the combined forces. My great uncle Private James McAlinden, awarded the Cross of St George, is buried in Corbie, France having died of wounds during the First World War on 28 February 1917.
None of this was lost on me when earlier this year I volunteered to sit on Craigavon Borough Council’s WW1 commemoration committee. I subsequently contributed to the organisation and planning of many activities to commemorate WW1 including lectures, exhibitions, church services and poppy seed planting. I also suggested and was successful in implementing a schools competition on WW1.
When I, as the Deputy Mayor of Craigavon, was passed an invitation to attend this week’s Remembrance Sunday event in Lurgan I immediately approached the Lurgan Branch of the Royal British Legion to initiate an engagement. I was again conscious that this was the first time, in the history of the borough, that a Republican had held the post of Deputy Mayor.
I made many attempts to contact the Lurgan branch of the Legion. These efforts went unanswered. I then approached both the Legion headquarters and another local branch in Portadown. The Portadown Branch immediately agreed to meet me and invited the Lurgan Branch along to the same meeting. Unfortunately the Lurgan Branch did not arrive at the meeting.
The meeting with the Portadown Branch was challenging but meaningful and left me very hopeful of progress. I continued my attempts to contact the Lurgan branch. Eventually contact was made with the Chairperson and a meeting was agreed.
The meeting occurred a few days later but lasted less than ten minutes. I was left with absolutely no doubt, that no inclusive event, that I as an Irish Republican could attend, was on the cards, either now or in the future. I was extremely disappointed there was no willingness to open up a discussion on how nationalists and republicans could be included in such remembrance events.
However, I remain hopeful that we can achieve an inclusive event of remembrance in the future. Moving in to the new councils all parties will hold the positions of Council Chairperson or Vice-Chair.
These new institutions will have to face the challenges of ensuring parity of esteem and mutual respect; whether that is looking at the First and Second World Wars or at the more recent period of conflict here in Ireland.
Engagement is a two-way process – it takes time, effort and persistence requiring bold and courageous steps from everyone. Progress is usually the end result and although it was not the result this time I believe it can be in the near future.
I firmly believe that Remembrance does not belong to one community any more than it belongs to the other. In fact, it is one of the key parts of our joint and shared history – something I believe can unite us, if we have the will to create that space.