Political leaders from the Republic of Ireland will be invited to participate at a war commemoration at the Cenotaph in Belfast for the first time.
According to a report in the Belfast Telegraph this week, the unprecedented motion calling for the Irish government to join Battle of the Somme and Armistice Day ceremonies in the North was backed by all parties except Sinn Fein when it was proposed at a full meeting of Belfast City Council on Wednesday.
The proposal, the first of its kind, was submitted by nationalist representative Pat McCarthy who told the press he believed that the 'time was right' to further normalize relationships between Belfast and Dublin.
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'For a long time in the history of the Republic, that period (the First World War) was forgotten and was something which was never talked about,' the veteran Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP) politician told the chamber.
'But that has now changed and there are many groups which have been formed to look at the history of people from the local area who took part in the First World War. Indeed, it is to be welcomed as it is part of the complex relationships between all parts of Ireland. I think it is now time (to invite) the government in Dublin to participate at the Somme commemoration and the Remembrance Sunday ceremony here in our city.'
Under consideration is the Republic's Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, who could be nominated to participate in the annual events in July and November.
Echoing McCarthy's sentiments, Christopher Stalford from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) seconded the motion and said: 'People from the nationalist or Home Rule background who went and fought in France were effectively written out of history, their memory was sullied.'
Sinn Fein has held a separate commemoration before the official Somme anniversary ceremony since 2002. Party heads have layed a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph two hours before the main event, an event begun by former Lord Mayor Alex Maskey during his tenure at City Hall.
Belfast's current Lord Mayor Niall O'Donnghaile has claimed that republicans will consider attending the main event if significant changes were made. O'Donnghaile's own great uncle Frank Alexander O'Boyle died at the Battle of the Somme while fighting with the Royal Leinster Regiment.
However, republican leader at City Hall Jim McVeigh made his opposition to the proposal clear this week, branding the motion 'premature and ill thought-out.'
'We should remember these people, but our representatives are not interested in celebrating the fact that thousands of men were led to the slaughter in an imperialist war,' added McVeigh. 'They were brave men, yes. But, lions led by donkeys in some respects," Mr McVeigh said.
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