The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to 1 hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.
I beg to move
That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to provide funding for events and initiatives aimed at commemorating the centenary of the Great War.
It is my privilege to propose the motion standing in my name and those of my two colleagues. As we all know, we are in the middle of what has been described as "the decade of centenaries". So far, we have had the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 and the centenary of the signing of the Ulster covenant in September of the same year. This year, 2014, marks the centenary of the UVF gun-running and other events related to the home rule crisis. However, 2014 is a very significant year for an even bigger reason. Sometimes in history, the troubles and challenges faced by specific communities and nations can be overshadowed by wider, cataclysmic events of a global nature.
Even as the Ulster home rule crisis continued to deepen in the spring and summer of 1914, the storm clouds of a European war began to appear on the horizon. In contrast to World War II, where the causes of the outbreak were very clear, I struggle to get my head around the precise reasons why the world found itself at war in early August 1914. Indeed, at that time, many thought that it would be a short conflict, and the young men of Ulster, England. Scotland, Wales and of the South of Ireland headed off to the front in a positive frame of mind, confidently expecting that they would be home for Christmas. Sadly, as we know, such optimism proved to be naive and unfounded. The Great War, as it was originally known, was a horrendous conflict that dragged on until the autumn of 1918 and claimed the lives of over 16 million people, military personnel and civilians, and left 20 million wounded. It had a profound impact on society long after it was over. It was meant to be the war that ended all wars, but, in reality, it only paved the way for the Second World War just over 20 years later.
We speak a lot about the challenges of dealing with the past, but it is vital that we have a proper understanding of our history. One hundred years on, today's generation needs to know. They need to understand the horror of war and the sacrifices made by our forebears in the 1914-18 war in order to protect and preserve the civil and religious freedoms we enjoy today. The well-known motto "Lest we forget" is central to the thrust of our motion here today. We urge the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to give the First World War centenary the priority it deserves and offer whatever help and funding that she can to those who are planning or would like to plan a range of centenary events. Some of those will be local and will focus on people and events in specific localities. Others might be Province-wide events. Some will be geared towards schoolchildren, and others might be part of a wider UK commemoration. Indeed, some events might have an all-Ireland angle to them.
I fully appreciate that people from all walks of life and from all community backgrounds fought and died in the First World War. Coming from the Protestant and unionist community, I have always revered the memory of the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division, who paid such a high price at the Somme and in other theatres of war. However, I am also aware of the role played by those of the nationalist tradition in the war effort, a role that was airbrushed out of history by some until comparatively recently. Justice has now been done, however, and those who fought in the likes of the 10th (Irish) Division are now at long last being properly recognised for the sacrifice they made. Carson's volunteers went to war in great numbers, but John Redmond's volunteers did so too. National Volunteer and poet Francis Ledwidge, who was to die in Ypres in 1917, is reported to have said:
"I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy of civilisation and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing but pass resolutions."
I want the war to be remembered in its totality, and it is vital that the various centenary events are marked in an honest, open, balanced, respectful and dignified way.
We take great pride in the heroism of those who fought and died on the fields of battle, and anyone who visits the war graves in France and Belgium will never forget the experience. We do not approach this matter with rose-tinted glasses. We acknowledge the total horror of war, and the endless rows of war graves bear testimony to that horror. When we look at the photos and the rare film footage of World War I trenches, we are reminded of the unspeakable suffering endured by those who fought there. Indeed, there are no words strong enough to even begin to describe it.
All these aspects have to be covered in any commemorations. Whatever is done and however it is done, it must be done well. To do it well requires funding. I raised the issue of centenary funding in a question for oral answer to the Minister back in January. I drew her attention to the fact that the British Government had allocated some £50 million for World War I centenary commemorations. I asked the Minister what discussions she had had with her Westminster counterpart Maria Miller, who was then the Culture Secretary, about how the war might be best commemorated here in Northern Ireland. The Minister informed me that she had not had any discussions with Ms Miller, who has now left office of course, but had been in contact with Ed Vaizey, a Minister in the Culture Department. She also referred to the support that she was giving the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and the Somme Heritage Centre. Perhaps today, six months on from that question and answer session, she will provide us with an update on these aspects.
I am aware that the Northern Ireland Office has a central, coordinating role to play in how the First World War is remembered. NIO officials sit on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport programme board for the centenary and are liaising with officials in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. I am keen to know to what extent the Minister and her officials are in contact with the Secretary of State and her officials and of any sources of funding emerging from that.
We are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is funding local projects to the tune of £100,000. I want to praise the effort being made in various localities to stage exhibitions, events and displays on the basis of that funding. I also wish to pay tribute to the Woodland Trust for its plans for new flagship woodland in 53 acres in the Faughan Valley in Londonderry. The Princess Royal helped to launch this during her recent visit to the Province. It will be a wonderful legacy to be enjoyed by all. This initiative is entirely fitting and appropriate. Others are rising to the challenge. Today, Minister, I say that it is over to you. I look forward to hearing what plans you have in relation to funding.
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. First, I say that I regret that my amendment was not accepted. It was an amendment that would have included all the centenaries and been in line with the Executive's statement of 15 March 2012, which outlined the important message that:
"These significant events will be organised under the principles of educational focus, reflection, inclusivity, tolerance, respect, responsibility and interdependence."
Back in 2012, during a debate on the decade of centenaries, I cautioned that how we celebrate our past is crucial to how we share our future. In some instances, this was heeded, while, in others, there was a blatant disregard. Do we need to commemorate the so-called Great War? Well, yes, if only to reinforce its futility and barbarism. The needless slaughter of millions was not for any perceived or actual freedoms, but the flower of a generation was crushed and trampled on in the mud of Flanders and elsewhere.
In 2012, we had the internationally recognised Titanic centenary, which caused much interest on a worldwide basis. That same year, we had the centenary of the signing of the Ulster covenant. More recently, we had the centenary of the Larne gun-running affair. These were little more than militaristic fancy dress parades. The Dublin and Belfast lockouts were marked by the left and trade union movements and the centenary of Cumann na mBan by women's groups and republicans alone.
With the decade wearing on, we must continue to examine the manner and means by which we commemorate the upcoming centenaries. We must also look at other significant dates and commemorations. Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Young Irelander and fellow Dungiven man John Mitchel, of whom Pádraig Pearse, leader of the 1916 rising, said that his writings were the most influential of any Irishman to date. Mitchel — who, of course, you were named after, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle — was not without his controversies. Two of his sons died and another was seriously injured on the southern side in the American Civil War, a war in which almost as many Irishmen fought and probably more died than in World War I. This month marks the 150th anniversary of the siege and battle of Petersburg, which was very much a turning point of the war in which a relation of mine was involved on the union side. This all goes relatively unnoticed.
Last month, I was honoured to be asked as guest speaker to the inaugural meeting of the Irish Association of Professional Historians in the Dublin academy, which was opened by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan. We both spoke on the decade of centenaries. I spoke of the concern of many about how 1916 would be remembered, and Minister Deenihan fretted about how the civil war would be treated, especially in the South, where civil war politics can still prove divisive.
At the lecture, I had a long conversation with Professor Jeff Kildea, holder of the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History and lecturer and author at UCD. His book 'Anzacs and Ireland' traces the individual histories of many Irishmen who fought in Australian uniform at Gallipoli, on the western front and in Palestine. He also traces a number of Australians who took part in the Easter rising. If, as the motion suggests, moneys are to be provided to help mark World War I, I suggest that we could do worse than to look at the research into the stories of the individuals from all sides of the community in this part of the world who were involved in the war. Their rationale and reasons were many and varied, and much is undocumented. Many, of course, went to their grave having never spoken of their experiences.
The history books tell us of the generals and the battles, but little is known of the men who fought. Some years ago, I read the autobiography of Harry Patch — 'The Last Fighting Tommy' — a modest, articulate and outspoken critic of militarism into his dotage. His story was a human story and more like it need to be told. My good friend Alistair Harper from Limavady has done sterling work and research into those from the Limavady and Dungiven area from different traditions who were involved in World War I, and I commend him for it, but funding is required for research, archiving and publication. If any moneys are to be made available, it is there that they should go.
Irish service in World War I has undergone a rehabilitation here in Ireland in recent years, and the individual stories, including those of republicans, must out, rather than having jingoistic parades and rallies. As I said earlier, I hope to bring a motion that will be inclusive of all centenaries and commemorations and will secure the support of all here.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to today's debate. It is reasonable to assume that each individual has a different interpretation of the events of the First World War. There is no simple, clear-cut narrative of that period, and views regarding the involvement of the British and Irish can be exceptionally divisive. Nonetheless, I recognise the need to commemorate that significant and complex time in our history and would support the allocation of government funding.
In Northern Ireland, there is a tradition of holding parades and ceremonies to commemorate historic events, most of which are conducted in a respectful and honourable manner, while others can prove controversial and divisive to communities. A monumental number of parades take place across the region. They place a heavy financial burden on our ratepayers and stretch our police resources. We must be careful to ensure that any government funding awarded for commemorations of the war does not lead to even more parades and even more policing costs. It is important that other methods of commemorating that are considered respectful and inclusive are identified and funded appropriately.
During Question Time back in January this year, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure briefly outlined some ways in which her Department and arm's-length bodies will be involved in commemorations. They included a programme of exhibitions, talks on books in libraries and new collections in our museums. I welcome those educational programmes, but I am also keen that opportunities be provided for individuals to trace their family history to identify if a family member fought in World War I. Perhaps the Minister will address that issue later in the debate.
I have been impressed by the approach of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, and others to re-involve the nationalist community when remembering the First World War. We should follow that example and ensure that the significant contribution of the Irish Catholic community is not lost. That said, I tend to agree with historian Heather Jones, who argues that commemoration should take a broad international perspective of the social, cultural and political changes brought by the war and its lessons for modern diplomacy and institutions. Let the commemorative period serve to unite our people with a common humanitarian history rather than divide.
I echo the appeals to the Minister to properly fund appropriate commemorations in connection with the outbreak of the Great War and, in particular, work being undertaken quite close to my own heart in east Belfast on the Great War that is staggering for want of funding.
The final act in the Great War, which has some resonance even today, was the closing of the war map. Present when the war map was closed was Winston Churchill, who later went on to become a war leader during the second war, which had its seeds in the failure to satisfactorily conclude the first. As the map was closed, he spoke rather prophetically and said that, now that the greatest conflagration in the history of mankind had been concluded:
"the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone" would re-emerge from the mist, restating the integrity of their struggle. That is a sentiment that, on some occasions, is echoed even to this day in this very Chamber.
The truth is that 353,000 Irish men and women of all and no religions volunteered, in the absence of conscription, to serve in the forces of the British Army, navy and air force. Indeed, foreseeing his own doom, one rather famously remarked that those he guarded he did not love and those he fought he did not hate; that his place it was Kiltartan Cross and his people were Kiltartan's poor.
The sacrifice, and I use the word advisedly, of the island of Ireland, as well as of the former Empire and Commonwealth, was on a scale that is almost beyond human comprehension in this day and age. It very much set the seeds for the world as it emerged subsequently.
The stories that need to be told are not those of generals, kings, prime ministers or emperors but of the common man and woman, bound by instinct to duty and prepared to face the unfaceable and to do the inconceivable in the service of a notion of patriotism.
My own experience, which is very limited, is that there is little glory in war and little honour, but war is in many cases a necessity that cannot be escaped or avoided.
Many years ago, I read of an incident that sort of summed up the commonality of spirit that pertained in the Irish regiments of the British Army — a tradition that goes on to this day through Irish Guards and the Royal Irish Regiment. Elements of the 36th (Ulster) Division, just before the second battle of Wytschaete were relieved by elements of the Royal Munsters. During the handover inspection, the colonel and the regimental sergeant major (RSM) of both units visited what were called "the displacement". They entered a large, sandbagged bastion embrasure. The Northern colonel looked at his Southern counterpart and admitted that his men had built this place from the sweat of their brows and the ache of their muscles, and called it "Derry's Walls". He looked, and said, "I suppose, and dare say, that your men will change its name." The Southern colonel, Irish and Catholic, grabbed his Northern counterpart by the hand, in the teeth of an almost incomprehensible impending maelstrom, and swore that the men of Munster would hold Derry's Walls for their Northern compatriots.
There was a chance, after that war, that things in Ireland could be settled peacefully. Unfortunately, the experiences that came from it produced a large number of republican irregulars who had seen service in Irish regiments in the service of the Crown, fighting against the Crown for the freedom, as they saw it, of Ireland, and a number of battle-hardened former officers, making up the Auxiliaries and, in some cases, the Black and Tans. The truth is that we remain one people on one island, several communities manacled by history to the opposite ends of the same chain, which will allow us to walk in parallel or towards each other. In displaying an appropriate degree of understanding of the significance of the events about which we are talking, the Minister, by adding her weight and financial support and discharging her duty on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland, could do worse than look kindly upon this motion.
Undoubtedly, the First World War was an important historical event. It had a long and lasting impact on the way that the world operated for decades since. It also had a profound effect on the communities whose sons went to fight in the war, including many from here in Northern Ireland and, indeed, all of Ireland. It is important to commemorate the supreme sacrifice made by so many as part of that effort. It is important because we should honour those who paid the ultimate price by giving their life in the cause of freedom and because it reminds us of the total and absolute horrors of war.
The 100th anniversary is an important milestone. It is important to remember that many young people have no knowledge of that war or the Second World War. The commemoration of those who fought in the war and the impact that it had on Europe and on communities here in Northern Ireland will be all the more important when there is no longer a generation who can remember it. That is why commemoration matters.
I also want to put on record the fact that those who fought in the First World War came from both sides of our community here and across the island. We cannot allow the commemoration of the war to become a political football. We must recall that Protestants, Catholics, unionists and nationalists made sacrifices. I do not want these important commemorations to be used for anything other than a solemn reflection, and using them to score points would be unacceptable. We should all be united on that issue.
In that vein, I also want to pay tribute to the recent efforts in the Republic to commemorate fellow Irishmen who fought and died in the war. That has taken place over several decades and includes the very visible maintenance of war memorials and so on. It is important that this part of history is not and will not be forgotten across these islands. Alliance will support the motion as it affords an opportunity to commemorate and reflect on an important event.
I support the motion. The background to the Great War is complex. It is a deadly mixture of imperialism, nationalism, political game-playing and score-settling. Whatever blame may be laid at the feet of political leaders at that time, the bravery of the soldiers embroiled in the conflict should never be forgotten, and the sacrifice of those who lost their life should never be taken lightly.
Over 70 million military personnel were mobilised during the First World War. Eight and a half million were killed and 21 million were wounded. The war was fought on a scale never seen before, and although primarily centred in Europe, it spread to Africa, Asia and the Pacific and involved dozens of countries. It was a war that scarred the world with its grotesque loss of human life and the settlement that followed, which involved the redrawing of boundaries and borders and the creation of protectorates.
Those who fought did so for a multitude of reasons, and my colleague Stephen Moutray pointed out that Carson's Ulster Volunteers and Redmond's Irish Volunteers fought on the same side despite seeking different outcomes. Around 80,000 men enlisted throughout Ireland in the first 12 months of the war.
Annually, Armistice Day services are held across this country so that we can not only remember those who died in conflict but remind ourselves of the horrors of war. The motion calls on the Minister to provide funding for events and initiatives aimed at commemorating the Great War, not celebrating it.
The events of the Great War have now slipped out of living memory. There is no one alive who fought in it and can convey its horrors, but anniversaries such as this are important so that we can not only pay our respects to those who lost their life but educate future generations. Programmes of events and initiatives can act as a conduit to relay important messages so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
As has been noted, a Heritage Lottery Fund programme has made £1 million available each year until 2019 for small grants of between £3,000 and £10,000. That funding is, of course, available on a UK-wide basis, but the Minister needs to be aware that a large number of faith-based organisations in Northern Ireland will not avail themselves of such funds on religious grounds. I ask the Minister to look at this as a particular issue.
In the years following the establishment of the Free State and, latterly, the Irish Republic, the contribution of Irish nationalists in the war was all but airbrushed out of history. Thankfully, that is now being redressed. The launch of the digital archive in Dublin of those who died and the visit of Enda Kenny to the war memorials at Flanders are massively important, and Mr McCarthy has already noted that memorials to the dead of the First World War have now been unveiled in towns and cities across the Irish Republic. That also has to be welcomed.
I welcome a new exhibition in the Ulster Museum, 'Answer the Call: First World War Posters'. I believe that, on 5 August, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum will host a special anniversary event on the impact of the outbreak of the war. It should also be noted that National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) is working in partnership with Queen's and the University of Ulster on a First World War engagement centre project.
However, while those are worthy schemes, there needs to be a wider, more accessible, programme for Northern Ireland. It cannot be disputed that the Great War is a huge part of our shared history. It was a time when Irishmen of differing political views and differing religious backgrounds took up arms to fight bravely in the same army. Commemorations such as this should not simply be left to local councils, although I welcome the efforts of a number of councils across Northern Ireland to mark this centenary. However, there needs to be something significant and appropriate from the Minister to demonstrate her and her Department's commitment to marking and remembering the shared history of our shared community. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments in response to the motion, and I hope that they are much more positive than those of her party colleague.
I will outline some of the things that the Department has done. It allocates £450,000 towards the community festivals fund, which councils can match, and it demonstrates the fund towards those events. Northern Ireland Screen will be supporting three productions with a fund totalling £335,000. These productions all tie in with World War 1 and also include a factual serial, a feature film and a documentary. The Department has also offered the Somme Heritage Centre £90,000 over three years for a programme linked to the First World War and the battle of the Somme. It is hoped that that will garner some knowledge of the key events of this part of history and build relationships with other parts. The Department, through PRONI, is planning exhibitions and lectures, and other arm's-length bodies of the Department, such as Libraries NI and National Museums NI, are developing educational programmes, exhibitions, talks and online access to collections to help local groups and the public to research this period of history.
Members, we have an opportunity to build confidence and to build on a shared future, which is written into the document.
I thank the Member for giving way. As someone who very much supported the festivals fund being introduced, I say to the Member that, for those of us on this side of the House, it is very difficult to equate money going to the festivals fund, which is essentially for celebrations across Northern Ireland, largely driven by local councils, with the 100th commemoration of the Great War, where there was a slaughter unparalleled across this island and this continent. It simply does not add up that people should be applying to the festivals fund, with all due respect.
I thank the Member for his intervention. Maybe when I get through what I am talking about, he will understand what I am saying. There are groups able to do that, and, if you throw your mind back to the gunrunning event in Larne, you will recall that money from the festivals fund came through for that. I will develop that as we go through this.
Therefore, we must now be ready to acknowledge all other groups' centenaries, such as 1916. Members, we all have a role to play in helping to build a shared future. The new super-councils must now show a real willingness to celebrate and have a tolerance for centenaries and treat them on an equal basis, not as they are at present.
Education must be the bedrock of any commemorations that we look to in the future. We had the gunrunning, and you celebrated that, but you left out the most important part of those celebrations, the Curragh mutiny, which was the bedrock of your gunrunning into Larne, and that is the kind of education that is lost. We must do this on an all-Ireland basis. We must look at the whole futility of war, and we must get the proper story out there. We know what happened, but we talk about airbrushing certain events out of history. It is good to see that the British Government have, at last, recognised that those who were shot for cowardice during the First World War were suffering from medical conditions, not cowardice. All of those things are now coming to the fore. That airbrushing that you talk about has now been made public and that has been got over.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
However, if we are going to celebrate centenaries, we must celebrate all centenaries, and we must have tolerance for every community. The Member can shake his head if he wants. Centenaries are coming up in Larne, and I hope to see tolerance in Larne for centenaries in a couple of years. You will have the centenary of the war of independence. Quite a lot of people who came out of the Great War had no job to go to when they came home, and they joined sides in the Great War only to get fed. Quite a lot of those who joined the army did so to get fed. The onus is on us to sit down and agree and acknowledge each other's centenaries because, if we are talking about education, it must be for both sides; it cannot be for one side. The perception of quite a lot of young people is that anything to do with centenaries of war is for one side only.
When applications for republican centenaries went to some councils, they were turned down, and that is wrong. It has to be equal. The groups that were turned down, believe it or not, all got seeding grants from the same councils that turned them down. The new councils need to show a willingness for equality because, if we do not have equality, we will not move on, and we will not put out the right story to our young people about the centenaries.
I hope that we can look for the same money for all centenaries and not be one-sided, because the willingness is not there yet. Everybody recognises what went on during the First World War with those who joined it. We recognise those who came out of the army after the First World War —
I welcome the opportunity to have some input into today's debate and to support my party colleagues' views on the issue of how we should do more to ensure that community groups have access to funds to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. To commemorate the service and the sacrifice of our forefathers is very personal, poignant and nationally important. The human cost of Governments' foreign policies should never be taken for granted, never trivialised, never marginalised and never politicised. The men, women and children who paid the cost and carried the burden have placed on us a moral obligation to be recognised in their towns and villages, churches, schools, and sports and social clubs.
On 14 January 2014, the Minister outlined the input from libraries, museums and those hosting educational exhibitions and how that would form the pivotal role of her Department's commitment to the commemorations of the Great War. Is that enough? It that really the most that we can do to honour and commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice? No, it is not. The obvious piece missing from the jigsaw is funding to allow our communities across the Province to commemorate the Great War in line with what they believe to be most fitting for their community. As my colleague Mr Moutray stated, decisions have been made in London to allow £50 million worth of funding support for commemoration activities, of which £34 million is ring-fenced for projects that support communities to conserve, explore and share local heritage in relation to the First World War. My worry, which is shared by many, is that, without the opportunity for community involvement, we will lose the ability to enable our young people to learn and share information at a local level.
I have deep concerns that nothing is being done by the Minister to help support schools financially that may wish to attend the battlefields to mark the centenary. Other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom are providing such financial support to help schools visit the European battlefields, with an additional £1 million being administered by Historic Scotland to include additional subsidies for groups travelling to the field of Ypres, Mons and others. Can the Minister confirm that her Department will financially support such visits by Northern Ireland children without prejudice to their school budgets? Mr Deian Hopkin, who was appointed by the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, stated:
"There can be few more poignant but important centenaries than the outbreak of the First World War ... the consequences of which affected every family and every community ... but also forged huge changes in politics, society and the economy."
It will a real indictment of this House and the Minister's Department if she does not do all that she can to muster support for all of our communities who fought side by side against the Axis aggression
As many Members know, I have both a professional and a personal capture with the issue of commemoration. Communities and individuals choose different methods by which to commemorate, many of which are not included in how and where the Minister wishes to place finances in relation to the commemoration of the Great War. As you travel from town to town, one is struck by the names on the monuments and the memorials to those who fell during the Great War. Even in the Republic of Ireland, monuments are, at last, being erected to those men and women who were for so long forgotten; families and communities not able to speak of them.
That tells us that local communities can commemorate in their own way, not in line with Departments and policies, and certainly not in line with funding. It would be fitting for the Minister to recognise that by providing community groups access to specific funds to commemorate, educate, learn and transfer this information to our future generations in a way that befits local need. I support the motion.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The motion calls for funding to support events and initiatives aimed at commemorating the centenary of the Great War. Glaonn an rún seo ar mhaoiniú le tacaíocht a thabhairt do ócáidí agus thograí atá dírithe ar chomóradh céad bliain an Chogaidh Mhóir.
In 2012, the Executive decided to take the lead role in organising events for the forthcoming decade of commemorations, saying:
"The political, social and cultural consequences of what happened during the decade" continued to reverberate throughout all of Ireland to this day. It was unanimously agreed that the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure would jointly bring forward a programme that would offer a real opportunity for our society to benefit economically and continue its transformation into a vibrant, diverse and enriching place to visit. There was a common view that many of the commemorations would have international appeal and would, therefore, attract visitors to the region.
The Executive stated:
"These significant events will be organised under the principles of; educational focus, reflection, inclusivity, tolerance, respect, responsibility and interdependence. Ministers agreed that it was appropriate and necessary for the Executive to set the tone and provide leadership in putting an official acknowledgement process in place."
At another level, and by way of highlighting this decade of significant anniversaries, the Community Relations Council (CRC), in 2012, organised and funded a series of public lectures in an attempt to encourage informed debate and reflection. As a member of the CRC, I know that those lectures inspired a lot of interest and were very well supported. Mar bhall den Chomhairle Caidrimh Phobail tá a fhios agam gur spreag na léachtaí sin suim mhór agus gur tugadh an-tacaíocht dóibh.
At the launch, Dr Eamon Phoenix, chair of the lecture series, observed:
"in Ireland, it has been truly said, we have a common history but not a common memory. For some ‘1916’ conjures memories of Pearse the ‘blood sacrifice’ of the Easter Rising; for others, the ‘blood sacrifice’ of the Ulster Division at the Somme ... In the coming decade this society – itself emerging from bitter conflict – will be challenged by the roll-out of a series of centenaries connected with the Irish Revolution and Partition. While opinion remains divided over such iconic events as the Covenant, the Rising and Partition, we must acknowledge that they shaped our destinies on this island, north and south."
It is clear that different aspects of our history will appeal to some more than others, and people will relate to the events that resonate particularly with them. The Great War was a huge tragedy, and the enormity of the loss of life arising from it can shock the hardest of hearts even to this today. But it is wrong to focus on a single event during that decade as a subject for this debate, as it does an injustice to all the others. It is important that we use such opportunities wisely and responsibly to ensure that in this decade of centenaries we adhere to the principles agreed by the Executive, which emphasise inclusivity and tolerance. It would be completely inappropriate if this were seen to be an attempt at exclusivity. So, while I can give my support to the motion commemorating the centenary of the Great War, it is with the clear understanding that we cannot be selective about this issue. There must be equality of treatment in funding, support and respect when we consider how best to remember all the historical events of 100 years ago.
Caithfidh cothrom na Féinne a bheith ann maidir le maoiniú, tacaíocht agus meas nuair atáimid ag smaoineamh ar an dóigh is fearr le cuimhneamh a dhéanamh ar na hócáidí stairiúla uilig a tharla céad bliain ó shin.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Tá áthas orm deis cainte a bheith agam sa díospóireacht thábhachtach seo ar an chéad Chogadh Domhanda.
Thanks very much, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to participate in this important debate, which affords us an important opportunity to deal with how we approach the issue of commemorations over the next number of years. Commemorations are an important part of life here and can be a good way of informing people of their history and heritage if approached in the right way and in the proper spirit.
There is an onus on the Executive to take a responsible and sensitive approach to organising events for the forthcoming decade of commemorations. As was said earlier, the political, social and cultural consequences of what happened during that decade continue to influence us on this island, North and South. The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure have been given the role of bringing forward a programme for the decade, and I would be interested to hear whatever the Minister can share with us on that.
This is a vital opportunity to highlight the transformation our society has undergone over the past 100 years. A large number of commemorative anniversaries throughout the decade have international as well as local significance and may attract visitors to this region. Such events must be underlined by the principles of respect and tolerance. The recent racist attacks we have witnessed in Northern Ireland remind us once again of the need to promote inclusivity in all the events we propose to organise.
If we examine the past 100 years in a truthful way, we can achieve a deeper understanding of each other and build through reconciliation on this island. History must never be used to entrench division but to unite and inform. History belongs to us all, whether we like parts of it or loathe parts of it.
In the coming decade, this generation has the greatest duty ever placed on a generation of Irish democrats, be they British-Irish, Irish-Irish, Scots-Irish, nationalist or unionist. It is a duty to ensure that history becomes a foundation stone for a better future rather than a yoke that ties us down and mires us in the past.
The forthcoming decade of centenaries and how and why events of various types are commemorated will be a critical test of our political maturity. The Executive have an obligation to deliver a programme of commemorations that appeals to people across the community, the island and the world. These historical centenaries have the real potential, if used in the proper way, to promote tolerance and understanding between our people. That should be their purpose, not to divide our people.
The approach adopted by the Executive must be underpinned by an agreed set of principles and protocols, informed by an ethical, critical and factual remembrance. That is the approach that we will take wherever the issue of remembrance and commemoration arises.
I am grateful to the Member for giving way. Does the Member agree that the motion is about the commemoration of the First World War and that we should not bring the politics in the decade that flowed after that into the scenario? I have listened to a number of speeches from across the House that suggest that Members are doing that. A soldier, whether he was on the triple alliance side or the triple entente side, was there because his political masters put him there. We should not politicise this issue at all.
Thank you very much. I thank the Member for his intervention. I am doing everything apart from politicising it. I am appealing for the approach not to be politicised or sectarian, and I hope that the Member would agree with that.
There are few families across the island who were not impacted on by the Great War, and it is fitting to commemorate that in a dignified and appropriate way. Achieving agreement on how we commemorate a decade of political turbulence 100 years ago is no easy task. However, it is an essential task, and we, as a society, have obligations to mark these events in a dignified, truthful and respectful way. There should be no empty gestures of support. We must support all appropriate attempts to mark our historical past so that we can learn the lessons it teaches us. The SDLP believes that commemorative events must be based on a clear understanding of and generosity to not only the diversity but the interdependence of our history.
Although we may see different narratives, there is a clear interdependence between all events. We support the motion in the context of what I have said during my contribution.
I am very pleased to speak in support of the motion. Many of you know that I was a serviceman quite a long time ago but not as long ago, obviously, as the First World War. Like many people here, I grew up with many members of my family and all their stories. My grandfather was a submariner in miniature submarines in the First World War. That will become relevant when I move on.
It is not just remembrance that we are here to talk about when we mark the centenary of the Great War, nor is it just the shared history and the shared suffering. We need to look at all the other things. We have talked about education, and we have talked about communities, and there is a whole mass more that is part of the Great War.
There is the creativity and the ingenuity that went into designing machines and machinery, albeit it for war, that benefited the world afterwards in further machinery. For example, Short Brothers were leaders in building aircraft and were one of the few aircraft factories either here or in England that were building early aircraft. Where would we be today if we did not have our aircraft industry?
Look at the freedom that came from the war. There was the women's role in munitions factories, and the change that came from women doing what were traditionally seen as men's jobs. That led to the suffragette movement and the vote. Many, many changes came on the back of the Great War.
We should also look at the improvements that happened subsequently to pay and conditions in factories. That affected a whole mass more of society, and with that came the rebalancing of society. In the book, 'A Night to Remember', which is about the Titanic, the last two chapters after the fateful sinking of the ship are all about how the Americans were appalled at how we treated third-class passengers. The book marks how we needed to grow up, and it was the First World War that led us to look after each other. That is the sort of thing that we need to remember at the same time as marking the bravery and the heroism.
Thank you very much for giving way. The Member referred to the creativity that the Great War gave rise to, and he mentioned some of the advances that came from it. Does he agree with me that that was a heavy price to pay for such advances? Does he agree that the other aspect of creativity — the literature that came from the First World War, from the war poets such as Francis Ledwidge, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen — has painted a very clear picture of what it was like during that war? In the final lines of Wilfred Owen's great poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, he makes this appeal:
"My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori."
Order. I continue to say to Members from all sides of the House that interventions should be short and certainly should not be statements, especially when you are eating into another Member's time and the Member has been good enough to give you the Floor.
Thank you very much. The machinery of killing that happened on the back of both wars appals me, but I am pleased that you brought in the poetry and literature side of things, because that is something else. There is so much that we can learn by celebrating the Great War. I am pleased that we are debating this today but disappointed that there is a little bit of taking sides. There are no sides in this; it is just celebrating the Great War.
Look at all the countries that were involved in that Great War: we are talking of the Africans, the Croatians, the Serbians, the Indians, the New Zealanders, the Australians, the Ottomans and you could go on. Almost the whole world was involved. It might teach us a little, as has been alluded to, about where we are on racism. When you go to the German graveyards, you see that Jewish Germans fought for Germany who 20 years later would have been persecuted. When you go to our graveyards, you can see that north African Muslims fought on our side. It was a whole world war. We should all be learning how to get on together and learning from that. There is so much that we can learn. That is why we should put funding towards this, so that we can all learn, as communities and as families. It was meant to be the war to end all wars. Hopefully, the two of them end up as those wars. We want to build an understanding between our communities. That is how we should take this forward. We should learn from the Queen's visit; we should learn from President Higgins's visit. Let us see this being done properly, working together with no point scoring.
I was struck by the intervention from the Member who said that we should not bring politics into this. The reality is that it is very hard to talk about anything in the Chamber without it having some political undertones. I am not sure that we should avoid it. History has a lot to teach us: maybe not to make the same mistake again or maybe to learn something for the future.
When looking at the history, I was particularly struck by the fact that all I had ever heard of, as far as World War I was concerned, was the 36th (Ulster) Division. It took me some time to discover that there was a 16th (Irish) Division relating to Redmond. You have to reflect on the history of the island of Ireland and what would have happened if Redmond's division had not been wiped out in the same way as the Ulster division was wiped out. It left different political entities alive on the island of Ireland. Our history might have been completely different if those things had not happened. There are a lot of lessons to be learned about why Redmond and his people went off to do this. There is a debate around home rule and what people were trying to argue for.
I am also struck by the words used when we talk about this. Some people use the word "celebrate"; some people use the words "reflect upon"; some people say just "mark". I was in Kansas City a few years ago, which is where the World War I museum for the United States is. It is a really large, impressive building. Of course, what I saw was that, first of all, Northern Ireland — Ulster — was not mentioned in great detail, because there were many, many other people, from right the way around the world; it truly was a global conflict. To get into that building, you had to walk over a bridge of poppies. Then, we get into our discussion here about how we deal with the poppy as an emblem. It is all very well talking about remembering World War I in a dignified way, but we then get into the difficulties to do with symbolism and suchlike.
Mr Kinahan talked about submarines. I was at the nautical museum in Bremerhaven. I saw the German World War I submarines. Anybody who saw them had to ask how on earth anybody survived in those conditions. There are a lot of things to be learnt.
I also wonder about the timescale of 100 years. Given that my family on my father's side is from Donegal and all of them served in the armed services in World War Two, it was certainly an issue that, for many years, nobody could mention the fact they had been involved in the British Army in some way, even going back to the Great War. It has taken to this time for us to be able to start to talk about these issues. Perhaps there is some clue for us here in the House about the time that it takes to fill the void and to be able to talk about the tragedies of the past.
My final point in all this is that, sometimes, people ask this question: what forms a nation or some form of identity? It tends to be a question of shared experiences. The great lesson from the Great War was just how traumatic it was for so many of our communities. It is something that we all shared and that pulled us together, but it was maybe the last time that there was such a focus on our communities. Things changed in how we recruited and built our battalions and regiments after that.
The question for us all here is whether we can move beyond the mere symbolism and can take the decade of remembrance and use it to build a genuine way forward to see what can be done about building reconciliation and trying to find a way to live together.
The Great War undoubtedly marked the history of the last century and, indeed, this century because of the cataclysmic nature of the conflict across Europe. In Northern Ireland, of course, when we talk of the Great War, many of us think of the great, chilling slaughter and its scale at the battle of the Somme. As Mr McCrea said, however, we are right to remember that the war was about much more than that. Naturally, for us affected in this part of the world, that personifies much of the chilling slaughter of that war.
There are many families who to this day remember that they lost loved ones and that they have loved ones from previous generations lying in the cemeteries of France. My family is no different: I had a great-uncle, a William Mullen, who was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Fusiliers who laid down his life in the battle of the Somme. That is the story of many families, and it is something that is imprinted on the traditions and history of us all. So, it is right that, in this generation, we should most assuredly commemorate those hugely significant events and do it in a dignified and serious manner such as befits the awfulness of the occasion when the world went to war on that scale and so many people, running into several millions, lost their life. They were men who went forward in response to the call of duty and to being sent by, in many cases, the Governments to which they were loyal. Many of them never returned. They were the heroes of that war. Many were ordinary folk — not landed gentry or people of great titles but ordinary individuals who paid the supreme sacrifice. It is right that we should commemorate and mark all that.
We should do it in a way that is not mean-spirited. I sense, from several of the speeches from the Sinn Féin Benches, an attempt to be mean-spirited, and I suspect that we will hear from the Minister a mean-spirited approach to the matter, which diminishes her and her party. Of course, she wants, in her own perverse way, to elevate something from that period to the same level, to which it can never be elevated, namely the grubby rebellion of 1916. In 1916, the real patriots of Ireland — the heroes, the soldiers of these islands — were giving their life for freedom for the rest of Europe. What we had at the post office in Dublin was a grubby rebellion by those seeking to take advantage of that. Sadly, there are those who would seek to introduce equivalence and a twinning of those events. I want to say clearly that there can be no twinning. There can be no equivalence between the sacrifice of brave soldiers in the fields of France and Belgium and the grubby rebellion of 1916. There is no equality there. I repudiate any suggestion that some equality should be imported into that situation. We are talking about commemorating the Great War of 1914. Let us do it in its own right. Let us do it without sullying it in the manner in which the Minister would seek to sully it by equivocating about it and trying to equate it with that grubby rebellion of 1916. If we do it in that way, we will do —
The Member has rebuked others for the meanness of their attitude. I regret to say that I feel that the Member has displayed extreme meanness of attitude in what he has said. It is, in my view, totally uncalled for.
I do not know what the Member means because he did not assist us by saying what was mean-spirited. I have saluted the memory, the bravery, the courage and the sacrifice of those who went to serve king and country from across Europe and gave their life. They were ordinary individuals who responded as soldiers. I have saluted their bravery and all of that. I have contrasted with that those who sought to take advantage of a nation at war to promote a grubby rebellion. I do not apologise for that. I do not think that it is mean-spirited; it is an accurate assessment of what happened.
Mr Speaker, you are very kind. Thank you.
I do not think that history will take it kindly if we do not use every opportunity associated with this centenary to teach our young people about the horror of the Great War, the scale of the human cost — the unimaginable human cost — and the speed at which life was lost on an industrial scale, not through the use of modern weapons of mass destruction but through the relentless use of guns and grenades. Certainly, if we turn to turn to the poets Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke and the rest, we can teach children of some of that horror. The Member has already quoted:
"Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori" — or "The old Lie", as Wilfred Owen put it. However, to my mind, there is no substitute for going to France and visiting the battlefields. You drive down regular country roads such as there are in Italy, Spain, here and the Republic of Ireland. The difference is that, after every second corner, a graveyard heaves into view — some small, some massive, but all regular with clean white headstones marking the graves of those who lost their life in the Great War. Those headstones, so pristine, are such a contrast to what life must have been like in the trenches.
We could send our children to Thiepval Wood to look at what life was like. At the end of the month, like many elected representatives from Northern Ireland, I will travel to France. On 1 July, I will lay a wreath at Thiepval and then at the Ulster Tower to commemorate the 36th (Ulster) Division. However, after that, I will travel onwards with many others to Guillemont and lay a wreath to those who lost their life serving with the 16th (Irish) Division.
If it is like last year, a wreath will be laid by members of the Orange Order wearing their sashes. They will lay the wreath, stand back and bow in respect to those from what is now the Republic of Ireland who stood with men from Ulster against the enemy. They will then stand respectfully for three anthems: the national anthem of France; the national anthem of the United Kingdom; and 'The Soldier's Song', the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland.
As we politicians struggle to build a truly shared future, let us not forget that we have a truly shared past. The story of the service and sacrifice of men from all over this island surely is perfect for personal development and mutual understanding, which are key elements of Key Stages 1 and 2 of the revised curriculum.
I would like to make two further remarks. First, I commend the City of Belfast ABF, formerly the Army Benevolent Fund, which is fundraising to unveil a new monument to the First World War dead on the day that marks the centenary of the first shots of the First World War being fired. It wants to do that in Woodvale Park beside the peace tree that was planted there in 1919. What I like about its thought is that it commemorates not just the dead of the Ulster Division or the Irish Division, 16th and 10th, but everyone — Irish, British, French, Belgian and German — who lost their lives in the Great War. I commend it for that. If the Minister has any spare change in her ministerial back pocket, I am sure that it would be very grateful to receive whatever support she can provide to make that dream a reality.
Finally, I pay tribute to a relative of mine by the name of Johnny Curry, who was born in Portstewart in the late 19th century. To try to improve his lot in life, he emigrated to Canada, but he then found himself on a ship heading to France as a member of the Canadian Army. Although he survived the Somme, he was very badly injured in a grenade attack in which his hip was blown away. He returned to Canada before emigrating a second time to the United States, where, I understand, he made a fortune only to lose it in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. He finally returned to Portstewart penniless and physically severely injured. How many million stories such as that can this war tell our children about the horrendous human cost of war? I commend the motion.
I begin by thanking Members for bringing this important matter before the Assembly today. What is clear from the debate is that we need to work out how we commemorate the events from 1912 to 1922. All Members — the 14 who made speeches and the two who made interventions — mentioned that that is an important step to help us to build a united community today and to support a shared future.
With almost 300,000 Irishmen having fought in the First World War, it had a huge impact not only on the families of those killed and injured but on all aspects of life here. We therefore have a collective responsibility to support inclusive ways of remembering the Great War and how it impacted on lives and communities across this island and beyond. Our history is, at times, painful, complex and intertwined, but it is shared and connected in so many different ways.
The 1912 to 1922 period shaped identities in Ireland and impacted on relationships in the north of our island, between North and South and between Ireland and Britain. Those events resonate to this very day, and that period in our history is, therefore, an important touchstone, providing the formative context to the society that we have today. Indeed, the make-up of the Chamber and some of the comments reflect the experiences and difficulties in the journeys and decisions that many in our society have taken. It also represents the will of the people and their desire to have their interests and aspirations protected and promoted, but within a new society of equals and in a new era of peaceful cooperation and partnership.
Unfortunately, many people remember and commemorate a past that is too often based on partial knowledge, myth or a partisan viewpoint and narrow perspective. That is why I am pleased that the Executive agreed that the anniversaries should be commemorated based on the principles of an educational focus, reflection and inclusivity, with tolerance, respect, responsibility and, indeed, interdependence.
The significant anniversaries of 1912 and 1922 provide us all with an opportunity to gain a better understanding of our shared past and how it shapes British and Irish identities and relationships right up to today. The First World War and the battle of the Somme are historic and significant events. They are connected to other significant anniversaries in that period including the Treaty of Versailles, the Easter Rising, the rise of the labour movement, Lloyd George's convention, universal male and limited female suffrage, the 1918 general election, the war of independence, the Government of Ireland Act, civil war and partition. They are all connected in one way or other. The key issue for us is not whether those events are remembered but how they are remembered in the context of a shared and accepting society.
Centenaries should not be viewed in isolation. Particular anniversaries should not be considered as owned or irrelevant to different sections of our community. The decade of centenaries is not a catalogue of unconnected events, with each anniversary being viewed in isolation. We all need to seek to highlight the connections across the decade and, therefore, maintain an appropriate focus on all the key events of the period. We need to look at the historical effects by acknowledging different interpretations. All of us gain a better understanding of who we are and how our past shapes our identity and our relationships today. The understanding, context and connections between the events as they happened and their impact on the legacy today will, I believe, promote greater understanding and an appreciation of diverse historical narratives and other points of view from traditions and political perspectives.
DCAL has led on this and will continue to lead on this. DCAL will continue to develop the Creative Centenaries initiative and promote it as a shared online platform for all activity related to the decade of centenaries. That will include the activity of PRONI, museums and libraries and NI Screen, but also the details of activities and events delivered by other organisations. DCAL will reinforce its leadership role in setting an inclusive and respectful tone for commemorations by engaging with other Departments and a range of organisations and stakeholders involved in the Great War and other commemorations with a view to using Creative Centenaries as a shared platform to promote and bring forward diversity in programme activity. My Department will also work with other Departments and stakeholders to explore opportunities to promote and enhance other funding opportunities for community organisations to deliver projects at local levels to commemorate the decade of centenaries.
There are a wealth of resources and events being delivered now and being planned by a diverse range of organisations. By setting an inclusive tone and signposting to supportive events and initiatives, DCAL can help and will work to maximise the impact and reach of such learning opportunities. We will do that by illuminating and providing opportunities for how we can share our past and uncover stories and insights to guide us to a better future, but based on historical fact.
Some people will continue to commemorate events of their own choosing and in their own manner regardless of any framework or approach suggested by government and elected representatives. I believe that the absence of an inclusive approach, cross-party support and proactive endorsement by all Executive colleagues showing leadership increases the probability of a partisan and polarising activity, which none of us claims to want.
Culture and arts can and will continue to play a crucial role in discovering and sharing the stories of significant historical events. Remembering the past is also relevant to other Departments, and they, too, have their role to play. Links to tourism, economic development, learning and education, and social inclusion all demonstrate such relevance.
I support the motion, and I support the idea that funding needs to be provided for such events. It is important that all events in the decade of centenaries are funded. DCAL will continue to play a role in doing that. We will continue to make a bid to have the work resourced.
I will outline some of the work that others have mentioned. PRONI will continue to commemorate the Great War. That includes promoting a huge range of data and media clippings relevant to the event. It can also be accessed online by people here and across the world, who can be inspired to create some of the content and, as Karen McKevitt pointed out, even trace their family histories.
We are also looking at how the Arts Council, in working for the 14-18 NOW festival, can help develop projects that will mark the onset of the First World War, as well as developing events that will happen following those years that need to be celebrated. They are looking at an individual artists programme as well.
Libraries NI has developed a programme of exhibitions, talks, books and launches to commemorate the start of the First World War and is working very closely with the Imperial War Museums and Queen's University Belfast on a number of projects. Libraries NI has significant heritage collections across the North and will be drawing on those resources to help promote public access to those collections. National Museums NI has planned a wide range of programmes designed to explore the context and the importance of the First World War and its impact on this part of the world. That includes online access to First World War collections and programming at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, and exploring the legacy of the Great War. We will also collaborate with the museums of Ireland, the Imperial War Museums and National Portrait Gallery in London on a number of initiatives.
Several productions with a First World War theme have been supported by NI Screen, including a BAFTA-nominated drama, which was broadcast on BBC2, 'The Wipers Times'. The work of NI Screen's digital film archive is also providing valuable resources for schools and members of the public. The Somme Heritage Centre, with funding from DCAL, is providing programmes of work. That has been mentioned, particularly in the delivery of the Last Post project.
That is just a quick flavour of some of the work that DCAL has supported, and will support. It highlights the significance of funding and the need for resources to make sure that all significant events in the decade are given due regard. I hope, and firmly believe, that the use of arts, culture and the creative industries will help people to engage across this island. They can help us to find innovative ways to remember our past. They can bring our past to life and tell the stories behind those significant historical events in ways that stir the heart and broaden the mind. I believe that, moving forward, DCAL will continue to support the range of activities that I have just mentioned.
I encourage Members of this House to be a bit more generous in the ways in which we look at how we all collectively remember this decade of centenaries. I believe that we have absolutely nothing to gain by point scoring or being belligerent. I am absolutely delighted that there was only one Member who participated in the event, and one who asked for an intervention that did not set the tone that the rest did, which is disappointing. I believe that the inclusivity and the principles that we all agreed in 2012 can and still apply to the decade of centenaries. We need to provide a framework to examine our more recent past and to promote further opportunities for reconciliation. I firmly believe that, by doing so, all of us together can build a united community and support social change that has the central tenets of respect, tolerance and equality, which has been advocated by the people of this island in the past and in the present. Go raibh míle maith agat.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion, and I thank all the Members who have taken part in the debate.
The centenary of the First World War must be commemorated in a manner that is fitting to its deep historical significance, and I urge the Minister to rise to that challenge. The First World War shook the nations of Europe to the core. It was a war that many would say should never have happened, but, within a few weeks of the summer of 1914, the peace of Europe was shattered and nothing would ever be the same again. World War I was one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. In many ways, it was the last of the old wars and the first of the modern wars, and, because of that, the toll of death and injury was, tragically, on a huge scale. The carnage left behind at the end of World War I was staggering, with the killing and injury of millions of soldiers and civilians. It is only right and proper that we commemorate and remember that war, particularly those men who paid the supreme sacrifice so that those who followed could live in freedom.
In his book on the war, the historian David Stevenson said:
"Contemporaries on both sides at once hated the slaughter and yet felt unable to disengage from it,".
To this day, the symbolic significance of the First World War is highlighted by the fact that we continue to observe Remembrance Day on 11 November. We stand in silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — the precise moment, on 11 November 1918, when the armistice was signed and the Great War brought to a close.
Sadly, of course, war has not ceased. The Great War was not the war to end all wars. Within a short time, the world was embroiled in a second conflict. This year, we marked the 75th anniversary of the Second World War. Since 1945, there have been many other conflicts, some of which continue to rage to this day.
As I reflect on the Great War, I think of young men, some still children as young as 14, maybe even younger, who volunteered and became known as boy soldiers. By the end of the war, many thousands of youths, too young to enlist legally, had been killed or wounded. They thought that it would be a short war and a bit of adventure. How wrong they were.
"They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.".
We must never forget the part played by the gallant Ulstermen. On 1 July 1916, the first day of the Somme, around 2,000 men of the 36th (Ulster) Division were killed and over 3,000 injured. That dark day, which is deeply etched in the folk history of this Province, had a profound impact in so many ways. It has been said that all of Ulster went silent as the news broke and that all that was heard was the weeping behind drawn shades. Every city, town, village and hamlet has a story to tell relating to the Great War, and it must never be forgotten.
On a number of occasions, I have visited the battlefields of the Somme. It is a memory that I will truly never forget. To see row upon row of headstones dominating the landscape and to walk through the cemeteries and war graves is a very poignant experience — one that touches even the hardest of individuals.
We have a wonderful opportunity to remember, to reflect on, to look back, with humility and pride, and to learn the lessons of 1914-18. Adequate resources must be in place to ensure that an event as momentous as the First World War is properly and appropriately marked. The Somme Heritage Centre and similar organisations do sterling work in that regard, but I think that more funding is vital if we are to properly mark the centenary of 1914.
I want to ensure that everything possible is done for the younger generation of today and that they have the opportunity to learn more about 1914. I am keen to see as many exhibitions, projects and events as possible, especially those that focus on localities. In that way, some of the unsung or forgotten heroes can be remembered by those who, perhaps, have ties of blood or neighbourhood with them.
As far as possible, I want the centenary to be inclusive. All sections of the community must feel part of it. I have mentioned the 36th (Ulster) Division, but other Irish men of a different persuasion fought and died as well. Indeed, those who paid the supreme sacrifice came from all backgrounds. Each of us will have our ow perspectives on the war and its contemporary setting, but that does not mean that we cannot join together to remember and reflect in a balanced and respectful way.
Some projects are being funded, and various funding plans are being considered and are in place. I pay tribute to all who are leading by example. I am aware that the World War I centenary committee is leading the way in organising many events to commemorate this centenary year and that funding is available from the Heritage Lottery Fund. I want to make sure that we do not look back on the centenary as something of a missed opportunity.
That is what I want to say as my contribution. I will now comment on those of some of the Members who took part. My colleague Stephen Moutray, in proposing the motion, referred to the great number of centenaries during the decade of centenaries. He also referred to the outbreak of the First World War. As I said in my contribution, young men left in August and expected to be home around Christmas time. Mr Moutray asked for priority to be given to the funding of these events. He highlighted the fact that unionists and nationalists fought side by side and that everyone endured suffering in the trenches. He also referred to seeking funding from the Culture Minister in London, and he asked about the extent of it.
Mr Ó hOisín suggested that we look at all individuals involved in the war. He talked about the need for research and funding to do that. Maybe we need to look at funding, but — I do not want to go down this line — I certainly do not agree with all the comments that came from that Member and some other Members about certain issues. We were debating funding for the Great War.
Karen McKevitt of the SDLP recognised the need for funding. She supported the motion, but she said that any commemorations had to be carried out in a respectful manner. She also spoke about the need for educational programmes and, if I picked it up right, the need for the Catholic and nationalist community to get involved.
Michael Copeland, if he is still there, gave us a bit of a history lesson on the war map. He also spoke about the sacrifice right across the whole island of Ireland. He said that the common man and woman took part. He stated that they recognised the need to serve their country and that they were prepared to respond and do that. Kieran McCarthy referred to the supreme sacrifice and the many who laid down their lives. He said that both communities were involved, and that they were united in the solemn reflection of commemoration.
Michelle McIlveen talked about the bravery of our soldiers, and she said that that should never be forgotten. She stated that the war scarred the world due to the huge loss of human life. She said that the funding of events and initiatives was for commemorations, not celebrations. She also said that the mistakes of the past should not be repeated. She referred to the need for faith-based organisations to access funding, and she asked the Minister to look into that because they had difficulty with the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Oliver McMullan, along with some of his colleagues, related to a broader spectrum away from World War I. He outlined a number of initiatives already being promoted by the Department. Mr Humphrey, in an intervention, referred to the festivals fund and said that he did not think that that type of funding should be used for an event as great as the commemoration of World War I. Mr McMullan also talked about education on an all-island basis and the work of the new councils and what involvement they could have.
My colleague Brenda Hale talked about the moral obligations of commemorating the Great War. She also spoke of the need to raise funding. She referred to the £50 million funding in London, £34 million of which was for communities. She spoke of the great need for the community to get involved and of the need for support for schools to travel and visit the battlefields in France.
My time is coming to an end, but I feel that the Minister must lead. She needs to work closely with her colleagues in OFMDFM, the Department of Education, DETI and with local councils and others in order to maximise the potential of all available resources.
Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to provide funding for events and initiatives aimed at commemorating the centenary of the Great War.
Adjourned at 6.35 pm.