By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she wanted her attendance at a Battle of the Somme wreath-laying ceremony in Dublin to send a clear message that she respects all traditions.
Ms O’Neill laid a laurel wreath as she joined First Minister Paul Givan at the Irish National War Memorial at Islandbridge in a special ceremony of commemoration to remember those who lost their lives in the Battle of the Somme 105 years ago.
It is the first time the Sinn Fein politician has attended a Royal British Legion wreath-laying ceremony.
Ms O’Neill said: “The Battle of the Somme was a hugely significant event in our shared history and it is right that we commemorate it in a respectful and inclusive way.
“Thousands of people from across this island died at the Somme and it had a profound impact on their families and society over generations.
“In laying a laurel wreath today, I was paying my respects to all those who lost their lives and remembering the enormous loss felt by so many.
“I hope my attendance here demonstrates my commitment to the principles of equality and parity of esteem for all identities and traditions on this island.”
She added: “We have different narratives in terms of the past but what we share in common is how we can build into the future.
“I hope it sends out a very clear message that I respect all traditions on this island.”
Mr Givan said: “It is a privilege to lay a wreath on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland in honour of all those who gave their lives for our freedom.
“So many brave young people, soldiers, airmen, doctors, nurses and clergy were lost over the course of the five months of the Battle of the Somme, causing devastation to families and communities back home.
“Today we recognise their unity of purpose and spirit of sacrifice and renew our pledge never to forget.”
The event was addressed by representatives from the Royal British Legion districts in Dublin and Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein’s former Stormont Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin attended the same commemoration in 2015.
The Battle of the Somme was one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the First World War.
Ms O’Neill will attend the National Day of Commemoration in the National Museum of Ireland on Sunday along with Taoiseach Micheal Martin.