Leading article

Acts of remembrance need inclusive approach

At the end of a difficult week for community relations across Northern Ireland, it needs to be acknowledged that, despite some indications to the contrary, efforts to make acts of remembrance more inclusive have made considerable progress in a number of key areas.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended the poignant ceremony in Enniskillen, for the fourth consecutive year and his presence, with all the symbolism it involves, has become an accepted part of the proceedings.

The gathering at Stormont on Wednesday was attended by a range of SDLP and Sinn Fein representatives, with Mitchel McLaughlin from the latter party actually leading the service as the Assembly speaker.

Nationalists generally have developed a much clearer understanding of the importance of the poppy within the unionist tradition and why it is entirely wrong to regard it as a purely tribal emblem.

Many unionists have also increasingly accepted that events which are broadly based are much more powerful than those which, for whatever reason, are effectively confined to one section of our divided society.

It was therefore particularly unfortunate that some individuals felt it necessary to include an unscheduled version of the British national anthem in the Stormont formalities without any attempt at consultation.

A blatant impression was given that anyone who failed to identify with unionist beliefs was not welcome at the Armistice Day commemoration in Parliament Buildings.

There was also a disturbing level of criticism aimed at the Ulster rugby team over a perfectly reasonable decision to observe a minute's silence and wear its normal jersey, rather than one with a specially printed poppy, in its fixture last weekend.

Ten of the 12 sides involved in the same league followed an identical policy, and Ulster made an additional gesture by staging an annual remembrance service at the permanent memorial arch at its Ravenhill home two days later.

It could further be pointed out that Ulster rugby is administered on a nine-county basis, and has a religiously mixed support base, but aggressive voices still insisted that the display of the poppy should have been mandatory.

One of the main reasons for the respect in which the Royal British Legion is widely held is its firm insistence that any endorsement of its initiatives and activities can only be voluntary in nature

It is the approach of the RBL which is more likely to gain respect than the attitude of those who still believe that personal choice can play no part in resolving hugely sensitive debates.

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