Veteran republican leader and Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle, Martin McGuinness, has accepted an invitation from the Flemish government to visit the Somme.
Mr. McGuinness has been invited to visit both Flanders Field and the Somme next week.
Mr. McGuinness will be accompanied on the visit by senior party colleagues including Sinn Féin Vice President Mary Lou McDonald T.D.
“World War One is an important part of Ireland’s multi-layered history during which tens of thousands Irish people lost their lives.
“If we are to build understanding and reconciliation on this island, we all need to recognise and accept the complexity of the historical events and differing political narratives that make us who we are as a community and as a people.
“It is in this spirit of reconciliation I will be visiting Flanders Fields next week to learn more about the Battle of Messines which took place in June 1917.”
The Battle of the Somme took place between July 1 and November 18, 1916. The battle saw the armies of Britain and France battle against the German Empire and it resulted in the deaths of more than one million people.
“I will also visit the Somme to mark the terrible loss of life on all sides in that battle one hundred years ago,” said Mr. McGuinness.
“I am doing so in a sincere effort to recognise the human suffering and also the importance these events hold for the unionist section of our people.”
Sinn Féin Vice president Mary Lou McDonald TD said while republicans were opposed to imperial wars and slaughter it was right to remember, in a respectful and inclusive manner, those who died.
“Republicans opposed the imperialist First World War War and the subsequent slaughter which claimed the lives of millions.
“However, the loss of tens of thousands of Irish and Ulster Volunteers left a huge mark on our society.
“In this decade of anniversaries it is right to remember those who died in Flanders and at the Somme in a respectful and inclusive fashion.”