Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness to visit Somme and Flanders

Martin McGuinness Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Mr McGuinness is taking up an invitation from the Flemish government to visit Flanders

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness has said he will visit the sites of two World War One battles next week.

Northern Ireland's deputy first minister has been invited by the Flemish government to Flanders in Belgium, where the Battle of Messines took place in 1917.

He will also visit the Somme in France, where soldiers of the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) divisions fought together.

Mr McGuinness said he was making the trip "in the spirit of reconciliation".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr McGuinness said his visit is a "sincere effort" to recognise the importance of the battles to unionists

The visit would be a "sincere effort to recognise the human suffering and also the importance these events hold for the unionist section of our people", he added.

"World War One is an important part of Ireland's multi-layered history during which tens of thousands Irish people lost their lives," Mr McGuinness said.

"If we are to build understanding and reconciliation on this island, we all need to recognise and accept the complexity of the historical events and differing political narratives that make us who we are as a community and as a people."

The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916 and did not end until 18 November that year.

More than 3,500 soldiers from the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) divisions were killed and thousands more were injured.

The Battle of Messines started on 7 June 1917, and more than 40,000 men lost their lives in the fighting.