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Sunday 12 March 2006

The oil of respect to calm the waters of the Troubles

'YOU can tell Bertie to stick it up his jacksie," said a northern friend inelegantly, on learning that the Taoiseach had invited unionists to attend the 1916 parade.

"Does it make it any better that Dublin will commemorate the Somme?" I asked.

"It makes it much worse," he said. "How dare anyone compare the 30,000 Irish killed in the First World War with that bunch of traitors who stabbed us in the back."

Dublin, we have a problem.

We're stuck with a 1916 commemoration whether we like it or not. I don't - much though I sympathise with the Government's desire to make the Provos squirm by forcing their frontmen to watch the real Oglaigh na hEireann march past the GPO. As things stand, it will be a highly divisive event which will exacerbate the damage caused by the shaming treatment of the Love Ulster parade. Yet it doesn't have to be.

Last week, the Taoiseach told the Sunday Independent that he was "committed to respecting all traditions on this island equally". Now is his chance to demonstrate that he means what he said. All he need is to show the same vision and generosity of spirit a handful of Orangemen showed in 1998.

The location was Stormont, the occasion a dinner commemorating the 1798 rebellion, the hosts were the Orange Order's Education Committee and among the guests were John Stafford, the Fianna Fail Lord Mayor of Dublin, Newry Catholic Art Cosgrove, President of UCD, and Conor Brady, editor of the Irish Times.

The food and wine were good and plentiful, the harpist and the Ireland String Quartet played a mixture of classical and Irish music, the conversation was lively and Professor Brian Walker of Queen's made a fine and compassionate speech about the idealism and courage and suffering of innumerable Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters on both sides.

The evening was a triumphant example of intelligent inclusiveness, inspired by that unapologetically anti-ecumenical though religiously tolerant Calvinist, the Reverend Brian Kennaway. (Of course, since the Orange Order suffers from chiefs with the collective imagination of a myopic wood louse and the brains of a flu-stricken hen, they grew alarmed by Kennaway's radicalism and ended up dissolving his committee.)

If Bertie really wants to show he respects to all traditions on this island, he could make a speech along the following lines.

Before being executed, James Connolly said he would "pray for all brave men who do their duty according to their lights". It's time all of us on this small island showed such generosity and acknowledged the brave people of all our traditions whose motives were honourable.

The 1916 parade will pass the statues of Daniel O'Connell, who secured Catholic Emancipation without the shedding of a drop of blood, and Charles Stuart Parnell, a Protestant parliamentarian who fought for landless Irish peasants.

Admirers of the physical force tradition should not revile constitutional nationalism. I have a portrait of Patrick Pearse in my office: my predecessor as Taoiseach, John Bruton, had one of Parnell's successor, John Redmond, who can be seen on the banners of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who still parade in Northern Ireland.

The parade will pass also by James Larkin, a champion of the working classes, whose socialism for a long time made him persona non grata in our conservative state.

To those who blew up his column, Horatio Nelson was a symbol of tyranny: in the year after Trafalgar, we should be able to admit that he saved us from Napoleon.

We should remember too the millions of Irish who fought in wars around the globe in the uniforms of various countries - sometimes on opposite sides - but who believed they were serving a just cause. And when we talk of the sufferings and triumphs of our emigrants, we should remember Davy Crockett and the Ulster Scots pioneers as we remember the Boston Irish.

We should particularly remember the veterans of the world wars. One of the most farsighted of our taoisigh, Sean Lemass, said on the fiftieth anniversary of 1916: "In later years it was common - and I was also guilty in this respect - to question the motives of those who joined the new British armies at the outbreak of the war, but it must in their honour and in fairness to their memory, be said, that they were motivated by the highest purpose."

I am sorry that it took us more than three decades to begin to commemorate the courage of the brave people of both wars who joined up to fight tyranny and sorry too, that we have been as slow to acknowledge the injuries we inflicted on southern Protestants as we have been quick to condemn northern anti-Catholic discrimination.

One common characteristic of unionism and nationalism is the ability to behold the mote in our brother's eye while ignoring the beam in our own.

When we look at the orange in our flag, we should respect what Orangemen perceive as the proclamation of religious liberty that arose from the Glorious Revolution. Yes, because of lesser men, it took time for these principles to be applied to Catholics and Presbyterians, but the principles themselves were a giant leap forward.

Orange banners commemorate William III as an enlightened monarch, as they commemorate principled men like that Dubliner, Edward Carson, who so desperately wanted to keep Ireland united.

So as we commemorate the 1916 Rising and all who died in it - combatants and civilians - let us make it also a commemoration of all that is good in the varied traditions on this island: Celtic, Viking, Norman, Anglo-Irish, Ulster-Scots, British, Irish, nationalist, unionist, green, orange, Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter and unbeliever - now being enhanced by our immigrants from Europe and far beyond.

Pluralism began with the acceptance of civil and religious liberty for everyone and we are still working at that. The Orange Order has been an example to us all in its racial inclusiveness.

TThis is a journey on which all of us on this island are embarked. I hope we can quicken our pace.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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