Loyalists invited to attend the Easter Rising commemorations

Tom Hartley with the programme of events to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising
Tom Hartley with the programme of events to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising

Loyalist communities across Belfast will be invited to engage in a range of events to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising, republican organisers have pledged.

All dimensions and perspectives on the insurrection against British Rule in 1916 in Dublin must be reflected in the anniversary programme, chairman of the organising committee Tom Hartley said – although one PUP figure gave a lukewarm response to the commemorations.

The former Sinn Fein mayor acknowledged some unionists may not want to commemorate an event that effectively paved the way for Irish independence, but he said others appreciated the Rising’s significance in what was such an important historical period for everyone on the island.

“What I find inside loyalist communities is there are many, many people who are already engaging in history and hopefully we can create a template where we can deal with what I call the combustible period of Irish history in a way that allows engagement and discourse,” he said.

“There will be some who will engage, others who won’t. But we do think it is important for us from early on in this process to say ‘Look, we want this to be a period of hospitality, of bringing people in and getting other people’s views and dealing with difficult views of 1916’. We have no difficulty with that.”

Next year will mark two major centenaries in Irish history. While the 1916 Rising in Dublin is a seminal moment in republican history, the sacrifice made by Irish soldiers, both Protestant and Catholic, at the Battle of the Somme in the First World War is extremely important in the unionist narrative.

Mr Hartley was speaking as a programme of events to mark the Rising in Belfast was unveiled in the City Hall. Parades, re-enactments, lectures, exhibitions and tours are all planned for next year.

However, further information on exactly what loyalists are being invited to will be necessary before anyone is going to attend republican celebrations, John Kyle has said.

The PUP councillor believes the initiative could prove positive – but said the Easter Rising celebrations, and many others, also had the potential to be divisive.

“We would like to have more information before we would make any decision on that,” he said.

“We recognise that the decade of centenaries is a time which can be both difficult, in terms of community relations, and can heighten tensions, but can also give an opportunity for communities to reflect on history and to learn the lessons of history.”

Cllr Kyle said he could careful consider any suggestions and added: “Personally I would like to see the details of the invitation.

“We need to learn the lessons of history to create a positive and peaceful future.”