“One hundred years ago today, many young men from this island were sent over the top to their deaths,” said Mr Ford.
“By the end of the battle, thousands of soldiers from both the 36th Ulster and 16th Irish divisions met their fates. It is vital we remember that sacrifice.
“It is essential we make commemorations for events such as the Somme as inclusive as possible, so everyone can feel comfortable attending ceremonies and marking them. We all must do all that is possible to honour the young men who did not return from the battlefields of both world wars, as well as other conflicts.
“Each generation should be reminded of the sacrifice made by their forefathers, so we can learn from mistakes and ensure the slaughter is not repeated.”