Mixed reaction to £3m fund to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary

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Mixed Reaction To £3M Fund To Mark Northern Ireland’s Centenary Mixed Reaction To £3M Fund To Mark Northern Ireland’s Centenary
Sinn Féin said it will respect those who wish to celebrate the milestone. Photo: PA
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By Rebecca Black and Michael McHugh, PA

There has been a mixed reaction from Northern Ireland’s parties to a £3 million (€3.3 million) fund to mark the centenary of the region.

First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster said the year should be about reflection, commemoration and celebration as well as looking forward to the new century.

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said, while republicans will not celebrate it, they respect that others will want to.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis described the year, themed Our Story In The Making: NI Beyond 100, as “the time to shine a light on what makes Northern Ireland so special, and to look forward to a bright future”.

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Ms Foster welcomed the approach.

“In 1921 we were world leaders in ships, rope and textiles.

“For 2021 we have now established new industries of fintech, cybersecurity, film and television and advanced manufacturing,” she said.

“We must now use every tool at our disposal such as the new national levelling up agenda to develop the national infrastructure we need to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.

“Finally, those who refuse to engage with the centenary are mistaken and should use this announcement to re-examine their decision.”

Discussion and dialogue

Mr Murphy said the year was an opportunity for discussion and dialogue.

“There will be celebrations for some people; for other people it is a period of reflection to look at the impact that partition has had on this island for 100 years and all the negative consequences that have flowed from that,” he said.

“It’s a good opportunity for discussion, for dialogue, for analysis, for charting out a better political future for all of us who live on the island, and certainly we will be engaging in it.

“But we respect there are people who will want to celebrate this; it’s not something that I as a republican who is opposed to partition would want to celebrate, but we respect that others will want to do that and they need to be given space to do that.”

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Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said, while some may take a different view, it will “not detract from those of us who are proud to call this place home”.

“Those of us who love Northern Ireland and cherish its place within the United Kingdom will quite rightly want to celebrate its 100th birthday and the Government’s £3m of funding will help us do just that,” he said.

“Much has changed in the past century, and the people of Northern Ireland have endured good times and bad, triumph and tragedy.

“As we celebrate this centenary, it is time to celebrate and also to take stock as we look forward to the future.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the centenary was an important moment.

“As with all the commemorations during the decade of centenaries, it will challenge us to show generosity and respect for the differing experiences of our traditions and communities,” he said.

He said he recognises the “sincere importance” of Northern Ireland to many, but said the SDLP has chosen not to take part in the NIO’s Centenary Forum because the party does not believe the UK government “is truly interested in telling the difficult story of partition”.

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Last month, the British government launched the Shared History Fund, making available £1 million to support the engagement of a wide range of arts, heritage, voluntary, community and other non-profit organisations with the history of the centenary.

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The Centenary Forum is meeting regularly.

It allows those from across the political parties, business, tourism and the voluntary and community sectors, to come together to shape the delivery of the programme of events to mark the anniversary.

An Historical Advisory Panel is also working to provide advice to the forum, and to the Government, on the historical facts of the period, as well as seeking to encourage and support a deeper public awareness of the history of the centenary.

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