Act of Remembrance 2015
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 13 November 2015
Reference: SO 09/15/16
ACT OF REMEMBRANCE 2015
At Wednesday’s Act of Remembrance I made a point of including the following paragraph in the Bidding:
“In this year, we especially remember those who served in the First World War putting aside their differences at home to fight in common cause abroad. Let their sacrifice serve as an example to all of us as we remember in different voices from different perspectives.”
On 2 November 2015, I wrote to every Member outlining the arrangements I was making for Armistice Day this year and my focus to ensure “that as many Members as possible should have an opportunity to mark remembrance”. I was greatly encouraged to see people from all political persuasions and none gathered in the Great Hall on Wednesday last for what observers consider to be a record attendance. Many people welcomed the united nature and tone of the programme but I clearly appreciate that the event did not satisfy the expectations of all.
I have spoken before about the nationalist amnesia in relation to the First World War and my regret that in that context I am only coming to wider remembrance late in life. As a Member from 1998, I had little awareness of the previous Remembrance events in Parliament Buildings nor was there ever an attempt to involve me or others. However, over this last year I have gained a lot from my engagement with the Royal British Legion, visiting the Somme Heritage Centre and the battlefields of Flanders, as well as participating in a number of First World War commemorations. All these experiences informed my approach to remembrance and made me determined that I would lead remembrance by involving as many people as possible.
As in other parliamentary institutions, part of the representational role of Speaker is the privilege of hosting and determining the arrangements for keynote events on behalf of the Assembly. In my letter of 2nd November, I informed Members that rather than the event traditionally held in the Senate Chamber, I was building on the format of the Act of the Remembrance I led as Principal Deputy Speaker in the Great Hall last year for the two minutes silence as the Assembly opportunity for remembrance. Members will recall that there was no music of any type at that event.
The hosting of a more structured event in the Great Hall put remembrance into the heart of Parliament Buildings in a more visible way. By inviting all committees meeting in the building that morning to suspend their business for fifteen minutes, I was seeking to ensure Members had the ability to attend. By involving all of the Deputy Speakers in the Act and the wreath laying I was seeking to include a broad representation across the House. These steps were all in addition to the initiative agreed by the Assembly Commission to light the building red for Armistice Day, another significant gesture of the Assembly recognising remembrance.
I recognise that for many people anthems are part of remembrance but I also know that for many others they are not. My door is open to engage with Members and others to listen to any suggestions about how we can reach the same outcome of wide attendance and inclusive participation in the future without some of the tensions which emerged between parties after the event.
I am serious about my commitment to represent all MLAs as Speaker but that often means making difficult judgements, no more so than in the area of commemoration and remembrance. Therefore, the approaches which will be useful to me will be those that are not just the easy solutions based on one perspective but take account of what I have to recognise as Speaker, that I represent an Assembly of Members with divergent views and different allegiances.
I am listening to the debate which has occurred since Wednesday. How we reflect and commemorate together is a challenge which all of us have to resolve in the coming years. We can design fully separate events which would be missed opportunities or we can work together to take account of each other’s sensitivities and differences to produce shared and inclusive events which would be beneficial to us all. Given the upcoming centenaries of the Easter Rising and the Somme, Members should be in no doubt that I will be equally determined in ensuring that those events are inclusive and welcoming to all.
When I look back on my time as Speaker, I will recall the view from the podium as I presided over the two minutes silence and looked out over many faces from many backgrounds gathered together in the cause of remembrance. That would have been unimaginable ten or twenty years ago.
MITCHEL MCLAUGHLIN MLA
“Respect – A First Step”