N. Ireland Politics

Keep anniversaries inclusive: Alliance

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle
Image caption Alliance's Chris Lyttle wants anniversaries celebrated in an inclusive manner

The Alliance Party is calling on the executive to ensure the 100th anniversaries of key historic events are marked in an inclusive way.

The party is leading an assembly debate on the issue and is also asking that the British and Irish governments get involved in coordinating centenaries such as the 1912 signing of the Ulster Covenant, and the 1916 Easter rising.

"This is a positive opportunity," said Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, "for us to celebrate events in an inclusive manner and in a way that can boost the cultural and economic development of our region.

"We want to see people come and visit Northern Ireland and commemorate and celebrate these events with us."

This year commences a decade of centenaries ranging from the launch of the Titanic to the Easter Rising in 1916 to partition and the foundation of Northern Ireland.

The events also include the centenary of women winning the right to vote in 1918.

'Significant opportunity'

The motion is expected to win the backing of nationalist and unionist parties including the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein said this decade was a significant opportunity to explore the past and to develop a shared future.

He said it would be regrettable if the potential for shared experience and understanding was lost.

He said his own party was open to marking the 1912 Ulster Covenant either through a shared event or having its own event.

This saw half a million unionists sign the Covenant opposing Home Rule for Ireland.

"When we have institutionalised power-sharing why wouldn't we seize the opportunity to draw any positive lessons from that period?" Mr McLaughlin said.

Asked if he expected the first minister to take part in a 1916 Easter Rising commemoration, he said it would be a mistake to lay down conditions.

'Contradictions'

The DUP's Nelson McCausland said he had no problem taking part in a panel discussion on the 1916 rising as a means of promoting understanding.

"There's a great deal of misunderstanding, many confusions, contradictions, complexities in our history and I think the decade gives us an opportunity to explore those and perhaps dispel some of the myths," he said.

He said not all events would appeal to everyone and that some would have to be approached on an individual basis.

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein expressed concern that some would try to make mischief around these events.

The TUV's Jim Allister, who is opposing the motion, is concerned that historic events will be distorted by the inclusion of republicans.

He also is pressing for a public holiday in September to mark Ulster Day.

Feminist writer Fionola Meredith said she hoped the centenary of female suffrage would not be squeezed out by the focus on unionism and nationalism.

"What so often happens in this country is that women's rights, and interests come very low down the pecking order," she said.

"So I would like to see some imaginative events that really recognise the significance of the suffrage campaign.

"(It) should be up at the top of the pile."

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