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Memorial Peace Park at Messines

 

The inauguration of the Memorial Peace Park to all the Irishmen who died in the First World War by President McAleese and Queen Elizabeth this afternoon at Messines, where the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division fought side by side, is an important symbolic moment of reconciliation in our history.

I have been very pleased to contribute political and financial support on behalf of the Government to the project.

I congratulate Mr Paddy Harte and Mr Glen Barr on their initiative and energy in bringing all of this to fruition. They should be extremely proud of their contribution. I also congratulate the young people from North and South on their work and thank all the companies who have backed the project in money or in kind.

The Memorial Park at Messines will complement the fine restored war memorial at Inchicore designed by Lutyens, where families can consult the names of those who died, a project which I was glad to have been associated with as Minister for Finance.

An estimated 50,000, both Catholic and Protestants from all parts of Ireland perished during the First World War. It is right that they also be remembered by the Republic of an independent Ireland. As Seán Lemass observed in 1966, they had responded to the call of their parliamentary leaders, and 'it must, in their honour and in fairness to their memory, be said that they were motivated by the highest purpose, and died in their tens of thousands in Flanders and Gallipoli, believing they were giving their lives in the cause of human liberty everywhere, not excluding Ireland'. The spirit of many young men was summed up in the famous verse of Tom Kettle who fell in the battle of the Somme, when he wrote to his daughter that those who died:

'Died not for the flag, nor King, nor Emperor,

But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor'.

As the 20th century draws to a close, we hope that we will never again see the bloody conflict between nations that scarred the battlefields of Europe over so many centuries.

Ireland's contribution to that must above all be a determination to work the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects that has been endorsed by all the people of Ireland and to ensure that the fundamental political differences on this island are in future peacefully resolved.