McGuinness pays respects at the Somme battlefield site

Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, and his advisor Conor Heaney, pictured at the Ulster Memorial Tower as they a wreath for those who lost their lives in World War One.

 Photo: David Blevins / Press Eye.
Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, and his advisor Conor Heaney, pictured at the Ulster Memorial Tower as they a wreath for those who lost their lives in World War One. Photo: David Blevins / Press Eye.

Martin McGuinness has rounded off a two-day trip to the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium with a visit to the Ulster Memorial Tower at the Somme.

The Sinn Fein deputy first minister yesterday laid a wreath “in memory of the tens of thousands from Ireland” killed during the 1916 battle on the site.

Mr McGuinness said it was also very important for him to “demonstrate respect” and remember the millions from all nations “killed in a catastrophic imperialist war”.

On Wednesday, the former Provisional IRA commander toured Flanders fields in Belgium were many of the Ulster casualties fell between 1914 and 1918.

Mr McGuinness said he only recently discovered that many Irish republicans had relatives who died in the war, including his special advisor Conor Heaney, who joined the minister on the trip.

Speaking from Thiepval Wood, Mr McGuinness said: “We have a shared and complex history on the island of Ireland. I hope that my presence here contributes to that reconciliation process in a positive and constructive way.”

Many unionists have given a guarded welcome to the senior Sinn Fein figure’s visit, although Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan, a former Army officer, said Mr McGuinness’s remarks about “imperialist armies” and being a “proud republican” sent the wrong signal.