IN further evidence of the Republic of Ireland's changing attitude to all things British, the News Letter can reveal that the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal raised a record amount south of the border last year.
The money donated to the ex-services welfare association increased by 45 per cent in the Republic, compared to a nine per cent increase in Northern Ireland.
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In 2007-2008, the Poppy Appeal raised more than €231,000 — up from €158,000 the previous year and a 229 per cent increase since 2003-2004.
Anyta Tickner, who administers the Poppy Appeal in the Republic, said she thought that the Legion's decision to change its wreath-laying ceremony from November to July to coincide with the National Day of Commemoration in the Republic may have been a factor in the increase.
Refuting Sinn Fein claims that a homecoming parade in Belfast would be "an insult to nationalists", she said that the Taoiseach's department had given enormous support to the Legion.
"We have had a huge amount of support from the Taoiseach's office in that for our wreath laying ceremony they provide us with the Defence Forces band, as well as a tent with car parking tea, coffee and sandwiches afterwards.
"The president, Mary McAleese, comes to our remembrance service in St Patrick's Cathedral every year and lays a wreath.
"The Garda Siochana also give us huge support for the event, as does the Office of Public Works.
"We can honestly say that the amount of support which we get on a government side from the Republic is astronomical."
Ms Tickner said that members of the Legion from Wales and Northern Ireland had marvelled at the support the Irish government gave them.
"They are amazed at the amount of support and help that we got and they were saying that they would love to get the same level of support from the British Government," she said.
"I can't speak highly enough of the people I deal with from those (Irish government) agencies."
Ms Tickner said that almost every family in Ireland had relatives who fought in the First and Second World Wars – which meant that a lot of people recognise the need to look after ex-servicemen and women.
"There is not a man, woman or child in the Republic of Ireland who does not have an ancestor who fought in the First or Second World War," she said.
"It used to be that it was all hidden away, but nowadays we must get 10 to 20 calls a day asking where they can find out information.
"We are constantly being asked to provide information to families and we are one of the few places where the membership of the British Legion is growing.
"We have a very good working relationship with ONET (the welfare organisation for ex-members of the Irish Defence Force).
"They have a purpose-built facility with accommodation and meeting rooms for ex-Irish forces who are homeless and if we have homeless ex-forces of our own, they have put them up for us while we find them permanent accommodation.
"I can't speak highly enough of them – they refer people to us and vice-versa because there are a lot of people who have served in both the British and Irish forces.”
Ms Tickner, whose brother is currently in Afghanistan with the Royal Marines and son is returning to the country next spring with the Royal Engineers, said that there was a growing acceptance in the Republic of the Irish tradition of joining the British forces.
“My son grew up in the Republic and is very proud to be Irish,” she said.
“All his friends from the Christian Brothers’ school in Swords know that he is in the British Army and every time he comes back from a war zone he is treated as a returning hero.
“We’ve never had a problem because he is in the British forces.”