Today in Dublin the Ulster Unionist Party is marking the events of Easter 1916.
This is a historic occasion, with a Unionist party, for the first time in decades, confidently taking our views to an audience representing nationalist and republican Ireland.
A series of speakers, including our Party Leader, will talk about the context of the rising and its aftermath, unionist and liberal politics during this period, the Government’s response to the rebellion, the context of the rising against the backdrop of WWI, and how, looking at views from 1916 Belfast, the treachery of the rebellion was perceived by non-republicans.
In deciding to mark the events of Easter 1916 in the way that we have, we in the Party have come to the realisation that the rebellion, with its loss of 485 lives, was a tragedy for the Irish and British people. We also recognise that it is a foundation stone of what became, the Irish Republic; however, paradoxically, that it was also a foundation for our nation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
We are also cognizant that any association with the GPO proclamation, incorporating its unjustified right to the ‘asserting in arms’, is anathema to many of our citizens who have suffered at the hands of republican terrorism. Our respect for the many victims of terror would have made participation in ‘commemorative’ events impossible.
However, unlike other parties, we recognise that the Irish Government has made considerable efforts in acknowledging that there is another interpretation of the events a century ago. The ceremony that will take place at Grangegorman Military Cemetery for British soldiers who died and the forthcoming act of remembrance at the War Memorial at Islandbridge in May are very welcome steps in this direction.
In going to Dublin today we are showing that modern Unionism can match the interpretive republican and nationalist narrative and confidently portray our equally valid unionist views.
In so doing we believe, as we approach the 100th anniversary of the founding of Northern Ireland and the present Irish State, we can, and should, work together to create a shared understanding of our past; not one that is wedded to any cult or celebration of violence, but one that is respectful of all our traditions across these Islands.
Steve Aiken OBE is a UUP candidate for MLA in South Antrim