25 July 2002 Edition

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Mala Poist

Maskey was right

A Chairde,

Nobody who read John G Lyons of Crossmaglen's letter in An Phoblacht of 11 July could be unmoved. I too would be at one with him in his views of those so-called Irishmen who joined the Crown forces in whatever war.

Yet it has to be said that whatever difficulty John may experience going from door to door next May in the run up to the Assembly elections will surely not be as bad as that felt by Alex Maskey and his colleagues as they approached the Cenotaph in Belfast.

Nobody disputes that it was a very difficult decision for Alex to have had to make, much less any republican. However, as Alex is mayor to all the people of Belfast, republican and nationalist, loyalist and unionist alike (whether the latter care to acknowledge it or not) he and his colleagues showed great courage to do what they did under a harsh media spotlight.

In doing what he did, I believe Alex was certainly not honouring the British Army in all its vile manifestations at all (some of whose members have actually tried to set him up for assassination in recent years).

He was, however, acknowledging the right of unionists and loyalists to respect their dead. In so doing he was equally insisting upon the rights of republicans and nationalists to honour their dead - no more and no less.

In this regard, he and his colleagues took the high moral ground, something I believe will become even more apparent when the next unionist mayor of Belfast is appointed.

When that happens, it will be incumbent upon republicans to cordially invite him or her to lay a wreath at the Wolfe Tone memorial in Bodenstown. Interesting times indeed.

Andrew Devlin,

Time for annual anti-imperialist event

A Chairde,

The decision by Sinn Féin to mark the deaths of Irish soldiers in World War One was a brave one and correct in principle. However, it should have been conducted as an anti-imperialist event, as opposed to that of a goodwill gesture to Six-County unionists.

There are precedents within Irish republican history for such events. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, republicans and socialists, led by people like Peadar O'Donnell and Roddy Connolly, organised Armistice Day rallies. These rallies, held in opposition to the pro-empire commemorations hosted by Free State imperial toadies, called for an end to British imperialism in Ireland - the same imperialism that had lured so many young working class Irishmen to their graves between 1914 and 1918.

One regular feature of these rallies was the regular participation of many Irish veterans of that war, who, sickened by their experience of British imperialism, were now calling for an end to its rule in Ireland.

Perhaps it is time for present day Irish republicans to resurrect this tradition and inaugurate an annual anti-imperialist event to commemorate all victims of imperialism, from the Irishmen gulled by Devlin and the German socialists and Soviet freedom fighters who died destroying the Nazi empire, to the modern day victims of imperialism in places like Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Such an event, accompanied by a call for an end to the murderous British imperialism that has plundered the lives of so many young Irish republicans over the last 30 years, would be a fitting tribute to the plight of colonised peoples everywhere.

Conor Magill,

Missing the point

A Chairde,

My modest little letter (11.07.02) praising Alex Maskey for his Somme speech was jammed between two much longer letters attacking the Mayor of Belfast for his decision to lay a wreath on the cenotaph. Mr Thomas Mahon is quite right to say about WW1 that "rich imperialist countries used the poor to fight their battles and slaughtered them in the process".

But people die everywhere, no matter what the cause, and most of them are poor. Those who knew, and loved, them grieve and common humanity demands that we understand that grief.

I agree with much that Thomas Mahon and John Lyons say but, with respect, I think they have missed the point of the Mayor's gesture. As I understand it, Alex Maskey was paying homage to the very poor to whom Mr Mahon refers.

Obviously, it wasn't easy for him to do this nor easy for others to understand his decision: nonetheless I believe it was a correct humanitarian gesture though, like Mr Mahon, I believe it would help if the Mayor made it clear that his homage included the poor German foot soldiers as well.

I was not born a republican - as an English, working-class Protestant, I became one - and I found that I always said a quiet prayer for any Brit squaddie killed in the last 30 years war. He (or she) probably came from the same mean streets and dole queues that I knew. The fact that I was saddened by any death didn't make me any less of a republican.

Brian Anson,

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1