McGuiness to visit the Somme

Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness

Former IRA commander Martin McGuinness has declared that he is to visit the battlefields of the Somme.

Mr McGuinness, Depurty First Minister and Mid Ulster MLA, said he was responding to an invitation from the Flemish government.

The Flemish authorities, which make up part of the government of Belgium, have asked him to come.

He will be accompanied on the visit by senior party colleagues including Sinn Fein Vice President Mary Lou McDonald TD.

The visit is to take place next week.

Martin McGuinness said in a statement: “World War One is an important part of Ireland’s multi-layered history during which tens of thousands Irish people lost their lives.

“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.

“It is in this spirit of reconciliation I will be visiting Flanders Fields next week to learn more about the Battle of Messines which took place in June 1917.

“I will also visit the Somme to mark the terrible loss of life on all sides in that battle one hundred years ago.

“I am doing so in a sincere effort to recognise the human suffering and also the importance these events hold for the unionist section of our people.”

Ms McDonald said while republicans “were opposed to imperial wars and slaughter it was right to remember, in a respectful and inclusive manner, those who died”.

Her statement said: “Republicans opposed the imperialist First World War and the subsequent slaughter which claimed the lives of millions.

“However, the loss of tens of thousands of Irish and Ulster Volunteers left a huge mark on our society.

“In this decade of anniversaries it is right to remember those who died in Flanders and at the Somme in a respectful and inclusive fashion.”