Loyalists invited to join in Belfast's Easter Rising centenary commemorations

Loyalist communities across Belfast will be invited to engage in a range of events to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising, republican organisers have pledged.

All dimensions and perspectives on the insurrection against British Rule in 1916 in Dublin must be reflected in the anniversary programme, chairman of the organising committee Tom Hartley said.

The former Sinn Fein mayor acknowledged some unionists may not want to commemorate an event that effectively paved the way for Irish independence, but he said others appreciated the Rising's significance in what was such an important historical period for everyone on the island.

"What I find inside loyalist communities is there are many, many people who are already engaging in history and hopefully we can create a template where we can deal with what I call the combustible period of Irish history in a way that allows engagement and discourse," he said.

"There will be some who will engage, others who won't. But we do think it is important for us from early on in this process to say 'Look, we want this to be a period of hospitality, of bringing people in and getting other people's views and dealing with difficult views of 1916'. We have no difficulty with that."

Next year will mark two major centenaries in Irish history.

While the 1916 Rising in Dublin is a seminal moment in republican history, the sacrifice made by Irish soldiers, both Protestant and Catholic, at the Battle of the Somme in the First World War is extremely important in the unionist narrative.

Mr Hartley was the main speaker as the programme of events to mark the Rising in Belfast was unveiled in the City Hall.

Parades, re-enactments, lectures, exhibitions, cycle tours and a commemorative walking trail are all planned for next year.

There will be a weekend of events focusing on the contribution of Winifred Carney, the Co Down-born suffragette, socialist and trade unionist who acted as secretary to one of the Rising's leaders, James Connolly.

One of Ms Carney's relatives, Desmond Cassidy, attended the launch event in City Hall.

"It's the greatest thing that has come to pass in the family that this is all happening for Winifred at the moment," he said.

"The more people that get to know about her, the more pleased the family are going to be.

"I look around the City Hall and I think to myself if Winifred was still alive and seeing what was happening here in the City Hall she would be well pleased."

The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), which traditionally represents loyalist voters, said it would be for individuals to decide whether to attend Rising events.

A party spokesman said: "As Unionists and Loyalists we don't think people will want to participate in any celebration events, however it is a matter for the individual to decide.

"The Unionist and Loyalist community will have their eyes firmly focused on remembering those who sacrificed their lives on the battlefields of France that very same year.

"On the other hand there will be those who want to gain a better understanding of the conflict and British and Irish history and that will be a personal choice for the individual."