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Boris Johnson unveils Northern Ireland's centenary programme

It will also pay tribute to those who worked tirelessly to support the region during the pandemic, Boris Johnson added.
Mar 12th 2021, 8:49 AM 19,826 51

NORTHERN IRELAND’S CENTENARY programme marking the anniversary of its foundation will champion young people of the future, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

It will also pay tribute to those who worked tirelessly to support the region during the pandemic, he added.

Plans for 2021 include a major business showcase in London, a £1 million Shared History Fund, a programme for young people, tree-planting projects, academic and historic events and an international church service for all denominations.

Johnson said: “2021 marks 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, which has paved the way for the formation of the UK as we know it.

“Our centenary programme will reflect on the past and on the people and developments that make Northern Ireland the great place it is today.”

Nationalists and unionists hold sharply differing views of the history of Northern Ireland: on its past governance and public representation; the security situation including decades of conflict; seismic events like World War II or the civil rights movement; over issues like public housing, freedom to demonstrate and equal voter representation.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said in response to the programme: “British Secretary of State is on radio encouraging Irish nationalists to celebrate the British partition of Ireland. Is he really that thick? Do all the lands of the world that Britain colonised celebrate colonialism? Why would we celebrate 50 years of one-party, unionist rule?”

Concerns over the sensitivity of the anniversary were partly the reason two senior civil servants from the Department of Foreign Affairs were given ‘observer status’ at the two meetings of the Centenary Forum.

Despite some suggestions that there would have been a public holiday or a visit by the Queen as part of the commemoration, no such event is included in the programme. The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson has said he will suggest that the House of Commons sits in Northern Ireland this year to mark the 100 years. 

It’s unclear to what extent gatherings can take place this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Orange Order postponed a parade planned to mark the centenary, due to take place on 29 May. Parades may take place after 1 June, it said last month.

Johnson said the initiatives reflect the UK Government’s commitment under the New Decade New Approach deal, which restored Stormont powersharing, to showcase the region more widely.

What’s in the programme

A total of £1 million has been awarded to 39 community projects to research and demonstrate what 100 years of Northern Ireland has meant to them and their community.

Belfast City Council will host an event at the City Hall marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament in the building on 22 Jun 1921 by King George V.

stormont-powersharing-talks Source: Michael Cooper/PA

Every school will be presented with a native tree to plant on its grounds. Schools will be encouraged to video their planting ceremony and upload what the UK government said was their moment in marking the centenary and working towards a greener future.

An extensive young people’s programme will explore what the future will look like in the next 100 years.

Live performance, radio and social media will showcase their hopes and ambitions.

The “centenary rose”, a flower the UK government said would represent reflection and hope, will be produced in Northern Ireland and planted in the gardens of the royal residence at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down.

A centenary rose will also be presented to Queen Elizabeth II for her own garden and there will be a decorative rose pin designed and produced in the UK, to be worn by VIPs at centenary events and given to programme participants.

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An international church service for all denominations will be held in the autumn, followed by a reception at Hillsborough Castle.

On the same day, historic buildings across the UK will be lit to signify “a bright future for all”.

London will host a Northern Ireland 2021 Business Showcase. Companies and organisations from across the region will promote their products, services and expertise while meeting representatives from international companies, governments and investors.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: “The UK Government’s centenary programme of events provides an opportunity for us all to reflect on the history of Northern Ireland and to take pride in all this fantastic place has to offer the UK and the world.

“In its 100th year, the people of Northern Ireland can build on their spirit of togetherness and recognise their enormous achievements over past decades.

“I hope that these projects and events will help drive Northern Ireland’s post-Covid recovery forward, inspire the next generation and showcase to the world the beauty, innovation and tenacity of the people of Northern Ireland.”

Speaking to The News Letter, Lewis said: “I’m not going to apologise – I’m going to be quite punchy about that; I think part of my job in the UK government is to promote all parts of the UK and Northern Ireland is a hugely important part of the UK.”

He said that “the UK is stronger because Northern Ireland is in it”.

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