The Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will mark the 99th anniversary of the Somme in Northern Ireland and France. The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP will be in Belfast to represent the UK Government at Belfast City Hall, with her ministerial colleague Ben Wallace MP travelling to France.
Alongside the Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Belfast, the Secretary of State will lead tributes at the City Hall for all those who had fallen at the Somme. Ben Wallace will represent the Secretary of State at the Royal British legion service at Thiepval and the Somme Association services at the Ulster Tower and Guillemont. He will pay tribute to those soldiers from the volunteer Divisions raised in Ireland: the 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division, who made the supreme sacrifice on the battlefields of the Somme in 1916.
Given the significance of the Battle of the Somme throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government will also be represented at high levels at both ceremonies.
Ahead of today’s ceremonies in Belfast and France, Theresa Villiers said,
This year I am honoured to be at Belfast City Hall to represent Her Majesty’s Government in this morning’s ceremony to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. It is important that as a country we remember all those men from across the island of Ireland who gave their lives for our freedom during the Great War. I am also delighted that my colleague, Ben Wallace, will lead commemorations on behalf of HMG at the ceremonies in France.
The Battle of the Somme has an indelible link with Northern Ireland given the scale of sacrifice from the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th Irish Divisions. Their attack has been described as one of the finest displays of human courage in the world and so it is fitting that we pay tribute to them today.
We are indebted to organisations such as the Royal British Legion and the Somme Heritage Centre who work tirelessly to ensure that the heroic contribution is always remembered.
Both I and Minister Wallace are engaged with the Irish Government on a programme of events to mark the First World War and the wider decade of centenaries. This decade offers an opportunity to learn about our shared history in a way which, through mutual respect and inclusivity, will help us continue on our path towards a shared future.