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'Time for Ireland to look forward'.

Byline: By Ed Carty

Irish premier Bertie Ahern yesterday pledged to continue to work for peace and reconciliation in Ireland at Dublin's Kilmainham Gaol, in remembrance of the 1916 Easter Rising rebels.

In the first of several State ceremonies marking the 90th anniversary of the rebellion at a private service in the jail, Mr Ahern urged people to strive for a new future.

"As we look to the future, we must be generous and inclusive so that all of the people of Ireland can live together with each other and with our neighbours in Great Britain on a basis of friendship, respect, equality and partnership," he said.

"And every day, in every place, we will continue to work for peace, for justice, for prosperity and for reconciliation between all who share and who love this special island."

The ceremony was the first of a series of events held across the country culminating in a military parade of 2,500 troops past the iconic GPO building.

The procession, watched by 120,000 people as it wend its way through Dublin's streets, was a tribute to those who fought and died for Irish freedom.

In a solemn and respectful memorial to those killed in the bloody battles of the Rising, President Mary McAleese laid a wreath at the front of the GPO, the focal point of the rebellion.

Mr Ahern and the President looked on as the tricolour above the iconic building was lowered to half mast and Captain Tom Ryan, of the sixth Infantry Battalion, re-enacted the reading of the Proclamation of the Republic.

After the parade Mr Ahern said he was reminded of the sacrifice hundreds of men and women committed to in order to liberate the nation.

"My most moving moment of the day was when I laid a wreath in Stonebreaker's Yard in Kilmainham, which carried a chilling reminder of the execution of the 1916 leaders there 90 years ago," he said.

Mr Ahern remarked that he hoped the military parade would continue in a low-key manner each year until the centenary of the Rising in 2016.

The military display saw Defence Forces and Irish Navy personnel in full military uniform with the latest equipment and vehicles march through the capital as half a dozen Army bands provided music.

The Army Equitation School, Defence Forces Medical Corps, an Garda Siochana, UN veterans and ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen joined the procession.

Onlookers standing behind crash barriers saw giant Armoured Personnel Carriers, 1.75-tonne artillery guns, Explosive Ordnance Disposal armoured vehicles, an Aardvark mine sweeper and several MOWAG tanks in the parade.

Also included were vintage artillery guns, which were issued to the Defence Forces in 1949 and are used in the presidential 21-gun salute.

An Irish Air Corps fly-over of light military aircraft and the Government Lear Jet drew loud applause and cheers.

Former political leaders, TDs, Senators and diplomats stood as the crowds joined in a rendition of Amhran na bhFainn, the national anthem.

Mark Durkan, SDLP MP, was the only political leader from the north to attend.

"Today was a very appropriate commemoration," he said.

"But I hope that commemorations in the future will be even more dignified and inclusive and won't have as strong a military presence."

The nationalist leader said it was unfortunate, but not surprising, that unionist politicians had declined an invitation to attend.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said: "The commemorations were a great showcase for the defence forces. It was a great showcase for the Irish Army, for the services at home and abroad, and great to see them all."

He added the day's event should be seen as a long dress rehearsal for Centenary commemorations in 2016.

Former Irish Premier, Albert Reynolds, congratulated the organisers of the event which he said was very important for the defence forces and the general public.

"It was high time that we had a parade like this. Too much time had elapsed.

"It was fantastic for the defence forces and the public and I hope that it continues on an annual basis," he said.

CAPTION(S):

Black and khaki-clad republicans march through west Belfast on their way to Milltown Cemetery to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 17, 2006
Words:704
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