Northern Ireland

Irish minister attends Belfast Somme commemorations

An Irish government minister has taken part, for the first time, in the Battle of the Somme commemorations at Belfast City Hall.

The ceremony, which marked the Somme's 96th anniversary, was led by Lord Mayor of Belfast Gavin Robinson.

Representatives of the armed forces, ex-services associations and the main Churches took part.

Sinn Fein laid a wreath at the cenotaph ahead of the ceremony.

The Royal Marine Band Scotland played during the procession and 25 wreaths were placed on the cenotaph in the Garden of Remembrance to honour those who died in 1916.

Soldiers from the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) divisions fought in the battle between 1 July and 13 November 1916.

Mr Robinson said: "As we move towards the 100th anniversary of the Somme in four years time, I think it is important that we reinforce the message that everyone here has peace and can share in the sorrow and sacrifice because it was for us all."

Soldiers from across Ireland fought side by side in the World War I.

Image caption Alan Kelly from the Irish Department of Transport laid a wreath

As with previous years, Sinn Fein councillors did not attend the main commemoration.

Alan Kelly from the Irish Department of Transport, who laid a wreath, said: "I think it's very important that today we acknowledge the sacrifices that have been made, not just in this jurisdiction but also the Republic indeed.

"Over the last number of years more and more acknowledgement has gone to those who sacrificed their lives during both wars."

Four hundred and twenty thousand British soldiers were killed or injured at the Battle of the Somme.

French casualties were estimated at 195,000 and the German casualties around 650,000.

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