Somme visit was a 'staging post in our journey to peace and real reconciliation' - McGuinness

Minister Martin McGuinness with Minister President Geert Bourgeois at the Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines earlier this week
Martin McGuinness

I was deeply moved to have visited Flanders and the Somme this week.

For me this was another staging post in our journey to peace and real reconciliation.

I was glad to accept the invitation from the Flemish Government and I want to thank them for how well they have treated us, their welcome has been extraordinary.

However, I didn’t accept the invite only on my behalf. I accepted it in recognition of and respect for the tens of thousands of Irish people, and those of other nationalities, who lost their lives.

They shared our native soil.

They belonged to Ireland.

They belonged to all of us.

When President Mary McAleese and the Queen spoke at the inauguration of the Messines Peace Tower on the 11th November 1998, President McAleese quoted Professor Tom Kettle.

An Irish nationalist and proud soldier who died at the Somme.

He said: “Used with the wisdom which is sown in tears and blood, this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain.”

Reconciliation must now become the next phase of our peace process.

As a society, we must learn to respect and celebrate our differences, not fear them.

This visit was an opportunity for the leadership of Sinn Féin to demonstrate our commitment to doing so.

It doesn't make us any less republican. It doesn't change the republican analysis of the First World War as a gross imperial slaughter.

But neither does it stop us recognising that there is more than one narrative, there is more than one version of history.

And underneath it all are thousands and thousands of ordinary human stories.

Stories of brave men who genuinely believed they were fighting and dying for the freedom of small nations like Ireland. They deserve to be recognised and remembered.

If we are to build understanding and reconciliation we all need to recognise and accept the complexity of the historical events and differing political narratives that make us who we are as a community and as a people.

We all have a responsibility to advance the process of reconciliation. We cannot change the past but we can shape the future.

We must no longer be restricted or restrained by our fractured past.

Individually and collectively we must move out of our comfort zone and not just talk about peace and reconciliation but through our actions show future generations there is a different way, a better way.

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