Messines invite was 'a great honour'

AN invitation to accompany a group of Londonderry schoolchildren on a tour of the First World War battlefields of Flanders was a great honour for Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie.

Ms Ritchie visited Belgium on the invitation of Glen Barr OBE of the Maydown Ebrington Group and the International School for Peace Studies in Messines.

The purpose of the trip was to visit a number of historical sites in Belgium as part to the International School for Peace Studies and to enable the Minister carry out a programme of events in Brussels.

Outlining the trip Ms Ritchie stated: "While in Belgium, I visited Messines in support of the work currently being undertaken by the International School for Peace Studies, led by Mr Barr and the Maydown Ebrington Group.

"This programme, which my Department funds under the Neighbourhood Renewal Investment Fund, aims to promote peace and reconciliation between communities in disadvantaged areas of Northern Ireland.

"It uses the experiences of those from both parts of Ireland who fought and died together during the First World War in Belgium and in and around Messines in particular."

She added: "I had the opportunity to visit a number of cemeteries and memorials to the men of the 16th Irish and 36th Ulster Divisions. I also met with local political representatives who have been advocates for the work of the International School for Peace Studies.

"My visit last week was timed to coincide with that of a group of young people from three different schools in Derry who were taking part in the Peace Studies programme.

"I was honoured to have the opportunity, along with these young people and their teachers, to participate in a memorial service at the Menin Gate in Messines."

Ms Ritchies also paid a short visit to Brussels attending eight separate events and meeting with a range of politicians and officials including the newly appointed Commissioner for Regional Development Mr Samecki and the new chair of the Parliament's Regional Development Committee - Ms Hbner.

"In my meeting I emphasised the important contribution the EU has made to Northern Ireland but that much still needs to be done to tackle the problem of segregation, and that a further EU contribution to this would be welcomed," she concluded.