Speaker hosts lecture on Easter Rising
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 14 March 2016
Reference: SO 18/15/16
The Speaker of the Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA is hosting a lecture in Parliament Buildings today on the 1916 Easter Rising, with a lecture by the Rev Dr Johnston McMaster of the Irish School of Ecumenics.
Speaker McLaughlin said: "The "Perspectives On" series of events was agreed by the Assembly Commission for the decade of centenaries to balance the need for this place to reflect the wider community against the reality that any controversy here will be magnified well beyond these walls, particularly in an election year. The "Perspectives On" series was established before I took office but the principles behind it perfectly encapsulate the approach I have taken as Speaker to our shared history.
"Through my time in office, I have been warning about whether we want the decade of centenaries to be about narrow back-to-back events in which different parts of the community reflect soley on the narrative with which they are most comfortable. Alternatively, these anniversaries could provide opportunities for reconciliation, to come together to learn about our shared history seeking to respect and understand why we might view them differently.
"If we are truly going to move forward as a society, we have to accept that every event in our history will mean more to some than to others, and often will mean completely different things. It should be entirely possible for us to reflect on events which have had a tremendous influence on our history in a respectful, inclusive and non-confrontational way without diminishing our own personal politics.
"We might each have our own difficulties and perspective on aspects of our history but nonetheless we need to acknowledge that they have all influenced where we find ourselves today. We can't ignore that our history is a complex weave of background factors and events which shaped and influenced each other.
"Naturally, we all view history through the lens of our individual backgrounds and influences. So tonight we mark an event which personally means a lot to me and others because of the ideals of those who sought and died for the cause of Irish independence and the values behind the Proclamation. However, I equally acknowledge the need to remember the larger numbers of British Army personnel, police and civilians who were also killed that week.
"One of the issues facing our society is that many of us only know part of our history. The events of 1916 particularly symbolise that with a division in our community over whether 1916 should be remembered mainly for the Battle of the Somme or the Easter Rising. Maybe there might be value for us all in thinking about how someone like me only gains an awareness in my sixties of the role of Irish nationalists the First World War? I have no doubt that this is mirrored by a similar lack of awareness within parts of unionism of the detail of the events around Easter 1916.
"These are all underlying factors behind the approach I proposed to the Assembly Commission for the "Perspectives On" events during 2016. While I will have stepped down as Speaker before this Assembly marks the Battle of the Somme, the Commission's policy required us to agree both this year's event at our meeting in January this year. This created the opportunity to address the challenges of historical context, sensitivity and awareness I outlined earlier by having the same person deliver both tonight's lecture and to return before summer recess in the new Assembly to speak about the Somme.
"I am delighted that the Rev Dr Johnston McMaster of the Irish School of Ecumenics accepted the challenge. Johnston's academic background in Irish politics and history alongside his work on reconciliation and commemoration meant he was the obvious choice to be able to address both the Easter Rising and the Somme in a way befitting the environment of Parliament Buildings.
"As has been the case with the previous "Perspectives On" events, there will be an opportunity following Johnston's lecture for your own questions, comments and personal reflections and I think that discussion will be another important part of the evening, to listen to each other.
"I don't pretend that looking back on history in a respectful, inclusive and non-confrontational way is necessarily easy to achieve. However, attempting to understand it in hindsight and listening to the perspectives of others can only benefit our society today."
Notes to Editors:
The "Perspectives On..." Series was agreed by the Assembly Commission in 2012 with a list of anniversaries which would be marked and a set of principles for each event which would be proposed to the Commission.