Taoiseach Micheál Martin this week became the first Fianna Fáil leader to wear a poppy to mark the British Legion’s Remembrance Day. He was criticised for doing so by Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín, who explains his comments.
Everyone should have the right to remember their war dead in the manner that they are comfortable with.
My own great Uncle died in his teens in France in World War 1 in 1915. He like many others was forced by economic circumstances to enlist. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary men were used as cannon fodder by competing empires. Their deaths are tragic and must be remembered respectfully.
However, the red poppy is political, it encapsulates a particular view of history. The red poppy is a British Military symbol. It encapsulates all the injustices that are associated with the British Military all around the world.
On the British legions official website, they state that the poppy should also be worn to support all the British Military Service Personal who served in all conflicts since 1945.
The wearing of the Poppy is to honour ALL current and former British Soldiers, Sailors and Air Men in all conflicts. This is stressed again and again by the British Legion and repeated by British Politicians and commentators.
To further emphasize this point the Legion dedicates the wearing of the poppy each year to serving soldiers. Recently it dedicated the poppy to those in Afghanistan and another year it was dedicated to “our heroes in Basra”.
The French and the Americans fought in World War 1 and they see fit to commemorate their dead without the use of the British poppy. Many British people who believe in peace commemorate them with a white poppy.
The Hogan stand in Croke Park is named in honour of Michael Hogan. Michael Hogan was but one of the 14 civilians shot dead in Croke Park by British soldiers nearly 100 years ago on November 21st 1920, an event that quickly became known as Bloody Sunday.
You cannot conveniently isolate the wearing of the Poppy in Ireland to WW1 and WW2. You cannot simply ignore the fact that you are honouring the Black and Tans, the killers on Bloody Sunday, the executioners of 1916 etc.
The truth is, Ireland and Britains’ relationship is not a settled one. Ireland has still not achieved full independence. The British State still ignores the self determination of the people of the north of Ireland. Brexit proved this.
One of the amazing aspects of the red poppy is the phenomenal pressure that is placed on people to wear it. James McClean is an example.
Every year despite the horrendous record of the British Military in Derry, he comes under pressure. He is deemed by the media to be taking a provocative stance by insisting on not making a political statement while playing soccer.
We need to reach out the hand of friendship and peace. Death in war is a disaster for every family no matter what side they are on.
We need to respect the sadness that is felt by all relatives of those that have fallen. All families have a right to remember their family member in their own way.
But to do this, we don’t need to distort history. There is no equivalence between Irish volunteers who sought to free Ireland and the violence of British soldiers that was used to prevent freedom.
Reconciliation is not about deleting each other’s cultural or political traditions. It’s an immature understanding of reconciliation to think that we have to wear each other’s political clothes to really respect each other. True reconciliation understands that the difference between Orange and Green is not a threat but that diversity will be a quality and a strength in a new Ireland.