Decade of sensitive centenaries by Senator Martin Mc Aleese

Reference: Seanad Eireann / 12.06.2011 / Document 2
Private Members Motion – 15.06.2011

Decade of sensitive centenaries

I wish to add my support to this motion and speak briefly about the coming decade of sensitive centenaries. Examples of these centenaries are:

1912 The Balmoral Review (in response to the 3rd Home Rule Bill) and the signing of the Ulster Covenant
1913 The Great Lockout
1914 The Formation of the UVF and the landing of arms at Donaghdee and Larne
1916 The Easter Rising and executions and the Battle of the Somme
1918 General Election
1919 The First Dail and the outbreak of the War of Independence
1920 Government of Ireland Act
1921 First NI Parliament and the Anglo-Irish Treaty

It is incumbent on all of us, North and South, Unionist and Nationalist, loyalist and republican to find a collaborative way to manage the celebration of the events surrounding these centenaries in such a way that value is added to the peace process and not subtract from it. These centenaries present a huge challenge but have the potential, if conducted sensitively, to fully consolidate the peace process and give a precious legacy from this generation to those who come after us.

The first of these centenaries takes place next year. The way the first centenaries are celebrated will set the tone for the rest. And as Bishop Paul Colton of Cork said recently, a broad and generous perspective needs to be taken in commemorating the full spectrum of these centenaries.

Good work has been done over the past 18 months or so by the Ulster Centenary Committee which has linked into work already under way in the Department of the Taoiseach.

That work would benefit from additional input from the nationalist/republican tradition particularly in Northern Ireland and from within loyalism. For the decade of centenaries to enhance relationships on this island there is a need for an integrated approach and considerable mutual generosity with full acknowledgement of parity of esteem

This chamber can have a role to play in promoting a general awareness of the sensitivities of these centenaries and in supporting and encouraging those who will play critical roles in ensuring that the related celebrations consolidate peace and reconciliation between the unionist and nationalist traditions. To that end this house could be briefed by, for example, the likes of the Chair of the Somme Association and by reputable historians who have a particular interest in the history of this period.

This would put the chamber in a strong and informed position to makes its own contribution to the success of these celebrations and to engage confidently with those who are pivotal in ensuring that success.

Ed: Martin McAleese is the husband of President Mary McAleese. In May of this year he was appointed to the Irish Senate (Seanad Éireann) by the current Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Enda Kenny. See Martin McAleese – Wikipedia

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