08 November 2020 12:30
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has laid a wreath at the annual Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. It is the first time a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach has taken part in the event, and the ninth consecutive year the Government has been represented. This year's ceremonies are subject to Covid-19 restrictions. Today marks 33 years since a IRA bomb at the cenotaph killed 11 people and injured more than 70 others. When it detonated, the walls collapsed on top of those who had gathered for Remembrance Day services.
The tradition of the Taoiseach heading north to Enniskillen for the Remembrance Sunday ceremony, started by Enda Kenny, will continue today despite the restrictions of the Covid crisis on both sides of the Border. It will be an occasion that endorses Micheál Martin's "shared island" initiative. Improving north-south relationships is a central plank of the policy, and the display of solidarity has been one of previous Fine Gael successes in building relationships with northern Protestants on the ground. Martin becomes the first Fianna Fáil Taoiseach to attend. The town is a prime example of the complexity of identities sharing the island and lessons can be learned from how it has evolved.
The balance of remembering the past, acknowledging the hurt of those who remain and moving society forward positively in changing circumstances is the context of the multiple perspectives and issues faced by the Shared Island Unit. Many within unionism know they must engage in fresh thinking, faced with changing demographics in the North, a game-changing, challenging Brexit, the possible break from the UK of Scotland and an English nationalist mindset in the corridors of power at Westminster. The exhortation by Boris Johnson for unionists to engage in "shared island" discussions won't cut much ice. Whether intended or not, Micheál Martin's assertion that a border poll was not on his radar for five years will have comforted unionists willing to engage in dialogue. As hard-headed and 'thran' as they are, unionists are also pragmatic and realistic. Opinion formers and influencers know it would be folly for unionism not to engage and have a say about what a new Ireland will look like. It should also be said that polls show younger Protestants are much more amenable to the arguments for a united Ireland. Often the changing attitudes are not reflected by mainstream unionist commentators. Indeed, unionist leadership has been lacking in showing courage, with Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken going as far as to say he won't engage with the Shared Island Unit. While much of the focus appears to be on unionism and its need to change, one of the Taoiseach's comments also referred to the need for "more reflection and engagement" in the south. Back in 1987, in the highly charged emotional atmosphere in the days after the Enniskillen bomb, I recall the then mayor of Dublin, Carmencita Hederman, coming to the town to deliver books of condolences containing the signatures of numerous of her city's citizens. Enniskillen's pain struck a chord in the south, and more latterly taoisigh Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar visited the town on Remembrance Sunday to attend the ceremony and privately meet families afterwards. It will, though, take more than occasional set-piece displays to engage fully with the North - and not only because of unionists. Last week, the Ireland's Future group held discussions with the Taoiseach to push for their agenda of a debate about a new constitutional vision for the island. How this discussion is to be progressed by the Shared Island Unit is yet to emerge, whether a Citizens Assembly or within structures already set up by the Department of Foreign Affairs which discussed the implications of Brexit - or indeed another way. But change is coming, indeed already here, and meaningful, serious dialogue involving all sections is needed to break down the mistrust and division which led to the human misery of Enniskillen and many other atrocities. Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD will be among the attendees at Sunday's annual Remembrance Day ceremonies in Enniskillen. The Taoiseach will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in the Co Fermanagh town before attending a remembrance service in Saint Macartin's Cathedral. This year is 33rd anniversary of the IRA bombing of Enniskillen in which 11 people were killed with a 12th victim, Ronnie Hill, who was in a coma, dying 13 years later. In 2012, Enda Kenny began a tradition of the taoiseach being represented at Remembrance Day ceremonies in Enniskillen. This year's ceremonies will be severely affected due to the restrictions imposed for Covid-19. Seating in the cathedral will be restricted to limited number of invited guests representing the VIPs, dignitaries and special guests, bugler and piper. The preacher will be the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd John McDowell, and the service will be streamed live on the Enniskillen Cathedral website enniskillencathedral.com. Each year the Taoiseach comes to affirm us as a community, to reach out to us as a community, and to show sympathy and solidarity with a community that has suffered dreadfully at the hand of terrorism," he said. The British Legion are organising the wreath laying at the Cenotaph in Enniskillen before the service in the cathedral but the public have been advised to stay away to avoid gatherings, the diocese said. Ahead of Remembrance Sunday, the leaders of Ireland's main churches issued a joint video message. Filmed separately in their studies, offices and places of worship last week, the leaders of the Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches, recalled the sacrifice made during conflict and lamented the loss of life. They also prayed for those who had lost loved ones to coronavirus and have not been able to grieve fully during the restrictions on church services. The video was recorded by Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland; Rev Dr Thomas McKnight,President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland Dr Eamon Martin; and Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, president of the Irish Council of Churches.