Somme anniversary an opportunity to build understanding
The 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme is an event of huge significance for many people throughout Ireland and deserves to be commemorated in a dignified and solemn fashion which fully reflects the horrific loss of life, not just on July 1, 1916 but throughout the First World War.
Indeed, the Somme offensive continued until mid-November 1916, leaving more than one million dead or wounded, making it one of the bloodiest battles in history.
Among that number were more than 3,500 soldiers killed from the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Division with many thousands more injured.
As we know, this battle holds a particular resonance for unionists who remember the bravery and sacrifice of ordinary men who lost their lives a century ago.
More recently, the involvement of nationalists in this terrible conflict has also been properly and deservedly recognised.
Martin McGuinness's visit to the battlefields of the Western Front this week, where he laid a wreath at the site of the Battle of the Somme, was another important step towards building understanding in our divided society.
There is no doubt the deputy first minister has made a conscious effort to reach out to the unionist community.
Visiting the Somme is the latest act in a journey of reconciliation that has included meeting the Queen and Prince Charles and each gesture that helps break down barriers must be welcomed and applauded while recognising that not all republicans will support his actions.
However, as he put it yesterday in an article in this paper, we must ``move out of our comfort zone'' and ``through our actions show future generations there is a different way, a better way.''
Ideally, the upcoming Somme commemorations will be viewed as an opportunity to promote understanding and respect and acknowledge the devastation caused to so many families.
A number of parades marking the anniversary are due to take place in the coming weeks but it is essential they are conducted in a dignified and respectful manner which takes into account different viewpoints.
In particular, concerns have been raised about a large-scale march involving 36 bands and up to 15,000 loyalists due to take place in Belfast city centre next Saturday during peak trading hours.
Permission has also been sought for a feeder parade from a mixed residential area in Fortwilliam, north Belfast, which will be viewed as a worrying development.
There would be clear sensitivities about a loyalist march in this area and this needs to be examined by the Parades Commission.