Republicans poised to organise Battle of Somme commemorations

Royal Irish Rifiles ration party during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
Royal Irish Rifiles ration party during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

Sinn Fein look set is to help plan council-run commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

The republican party voted in favour of a motion at Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council on Monday night - to establish a working party which will organise various events across the borough during 2016.

One of Sinn Fein’s three councillors is now expected to take a seat on the steering group which will work alongside other bodies such as the Royal British Legion.

Councillor Annemarie Logue said her party’s support for the motion was a reflection of the impact the battle had on both communities.

“There are aspects of this that are very important in relation to our shared history,” she said.

Cllr Logue added: “The Somme events involve a shared history and there is definitely an interest. We haven’t really discussed the outworkings of it yet, or signed up to anything, but it was positive in relation to the approach. I would say that because it is a centenary we are all making a special exception. I do know that members of the party before that have got involved in Somme events, especially when they have relations and it has been personal.”

On July 1 this year, Sinn Fein took part in a small, party only, wreath laying ceremony at the Belfast cenotaph - with no UK flags on display, placing a plain green wreath at its base.

UUP councillor Mark Cosgrove on Tuesday said he was “delighted” that the motion had gained support “from right across the council chamber”.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Council is made up of three Sinn Fein members; four SDLP members, four Alliance members and 29 members from unionist parties.

The working group is expected to be comprised of two members from two largest unionist parties plus one from each of the smaller parties.

Councillor Cosgrove said he had worded the motion on the Battle of the Somme commemorations “to be inclusive”.

He said: “The Battle of the Somme clearly included hundreds of thousands of people from the republic and from a nationalist background.

“It is a genuinely fascinating period of our shared history. And there are not many events in history where we are all on the same side.”