The DUP ‘Minister for Culture’ in the Six Counties, Nelson McCausland has rejected a call by Taoiseach Brian Cowen for the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising to be commemorated both north and south of the border.
Speaking at an event at University College Dublin, the 26-County Prime Minister said he expected that the Easter Rising “will be commemorated with respect and dignity in every part of this island”, something which he said would be a “challenge that must be considered by the leaders of unionism”.
Mr Cowen also said his government would commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Battle of the Somme in which thousands of Irish soldiers perished while fighting for the British Army.
He claimed that even the Ulster Covenant, a unionist petition in 1912 against home rule, would be marked in the 26 Counties.
He also declared the 1916 events would not be shared with by groups that were not interested in marking it for exclusively peaceful means.
“There will be those who oppose any such reflection -- who will seek to hijack history, to fight again the old battles, to re-establish hostilities and to perpetuate division.
“Some will look to use the memory of the dead to bring suffering to the living. To them I say: ‘Count me out’.
“Count out all of the people of Ireland -- North, South, East and West. We are united now in moving forward together to a peaceful future,” he declared.
Nevertheless, McCausland insisted the centenary of Easter 1916 could become a source of renewed support for armed struggle.
“There is the real danger of a veneration that could encourage and assist those dissident republicans in Northern Ireland who want to indoctrinate another generation of young men to pursue the nihilistic path of violence,” he said.
Mr McCausland said that the 1891 centenary of the founding of the United Irishmen had previously been ‘hijacked’ by Irish nationalists as, he claimed, was the 50th anniversary of the 1916 rebellion, which he said had a “destabilising effect in Northern Ireland”.
Republican Sinn Fein President Des Dalton said republicans could not ‘hijack’ something they have never abandoned.
“Irish Republicans will commemorate the centenary of 1916 as well as the anniversaries of the other landmark events in Irish Revolutionary history, just as we have in the past,” he said.
“Each year Irish Republicans both in Ireland and abroad have commemorated 1916 without fail. The 26-County state on the other hand has alternated between ignoring the anniversary and banning commemoration of it.
“1916 commemorations throughout the 26 Counties were banned by the Dublin administration in 1937.
“In 1976 Republicans were prosecuted - including Fiona Plunkett sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett - and some jailed for their participation in a banned commemoration at the GPO. Each year Republicans face the prospect of prosecution for selling Easter Lilies.
“For forty years the 26-County administration ignored the anniversary of 1916 but since 2006 it has opportunistically seized on it in order to sell the big lie that history has come to an end and British rule in Ireland is now accepted.
“1916 remains unfinished business while Britain holds any part of Ireland. The message of 1916 could not be clearer; “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace”.”