The possibility of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness attending Battle of the Somme centenary commemorations in France can never lead to genuine reconciliation as republicans still justify all the murders they carried out, it has been claimed.
Trevor Ringland, peace campaigner and former co-chair of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, made the claim after Sinn Fein confirmed that it is “considering a number of invitations to commemorate the Battle of the Somme”.
Irish soldiers from north and south played a major part in the Somme during World War I.
The 36th (Ulster) Division suffered more than 5,000 casualties by the second day – 2,069 of whom were killed.
The event is often seen as important to unionists as the Easter Rising is to republicans – both happening in 1916.
Asked about Mr McGuinness attending key forthcoming centenary events at Thiepval in France, Sinn Fein said: “Commemorations are not simply about remembering the past, they are also about looking to the future.
“Commemorations should be about gaining a deeper understanding of differing viewpoints, and should be seen as an opportunity to explore, understand and celebrate our differences.
“Commemorative events should aid reconciliation, and not deepen division.”
However, former Ulster Unionist and Irish international rugby star Mr Ringland rejected Sinn Fein’s concept of reconciliation.
“I think there is a broader context about reconciliation with Sinn Fein that we will be aware of, that simply put, they feel they were justified in the campaign they carried out,” he said.
“If we all adhered to that standard we would all say that Bloody Sunday, Michael Stone and all other loyalist atrocities were justified – but the rest of us don’t feel they were.
“As we look to the future we have to educate our children that murder was never going to solve our problems on this island and those acting outside the law were unjustified in doing so.”
He said it was “incredible” that despite claiming some 2,000 lives in the past 40 years, republicans are invited to events such as Somme commemorations.
“Sinn Fein will always take a pragmatic attitude to reconciliation as opposed to the genuine reconciliation between the rest of the people on this island, because real reconciliation is based on calling things wrong that were wrong.”
In January Mr McGuinness said he intended to be “very respectful and very dignified” about how he took part in Easter Rising and Somme centenary events, and that he was “very conscious of the fact that tens of thousands of Irishmen from north and south lost their lives at the Somme”.
He added that he intended “in an appropriate way” to be part of recognising the sacrifices made, and to send out a message that people can “unite around the suffering that occurred both in Dublin and at the Somme”.
In March he told Radio Foyle he intended to go to France to remember the thousands of Irishmen who died fighting for the British Army in the First World War at the Somme.