Remembrance services are not designed to suit those who attend them

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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The growing presence of nationalists at remembrance events in Northern Ireland is, as this column wrote on Monday and as the overwhelming bulk of unionists agree, a major step forward for reconciliation on this island.

It is very welcome that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny is accepting repeat invitations to Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday.

It is good that Sinn Fein now recognise the events. But services must not become “inclusive” at the behest of republicans.

This is not because the ceremonies should be in any way exclusive. It is because remembrance services, since their onset in November 1919, are sombre and long-standing traditions to mark British people who gave service in wars and conflicts.

They are not designed for the convenience of those who attend, although the Royal British Legion has always been clear that it is grateful when people do attend.

Sammy Morrison’s anger at the failure to have the national Anthem as part of Stormont’s Wednesday service was understandable. The erosion of Britishness in Northern Ireland is relentless. For it to encroach on remembrance services would be particularly menacing. In Britain, the anthem tends to be played more on longer services, such as Remembrance Sunday, than the often shorter ceremonies of Armistice Day.

The Stormont service was longer than many other of the latter events (Belfast lasts less than five minutes), and the anthem has been played at it previously. So its absence this year was troubling. But the spontaneous forcing of it at Stormont had a disagreeable feel in Wednesday’s serious context.

The most alarming aspect of this affair, however, is the role of Mitchel McLaughlin. It is inappropriate for Speakers to shape remembrance events to suit their or their colleagues’ tastes.

At Belfast Cenotaph on Wednesday, Catholic, Protestant, Jew and Muslim were represented but a wide range of attendees does not require a change in the routine. UK services for almost a century have followed simple, traditional and similar formats. That is how it should be.