Portadown ‘Covenant’ monument fuels centenary warnings
Portadown ‘Covenant’ monument fuels centenary warnings

A plan to hoist a large granite monument in the centre of Portadown commemorating the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, a unionist pact to oppose Irish independence in 1912, has been strongly criticised.


With the summer marching season approaching and a series of historical political centenaries approaching, the issue of flags, emblems and memorials is once again to the fore.

But a six-foot plinth to be unveiled in June is being described as a ‘statement of intent’ by unionists in regard to the upcoming decade of centenaries.

Portadown, long a byword for sectarian division, made international headlines in the past for the violence surrounding the parades by the anti-Catholic Orange Order through the Catholic Garvaghy Road, as well as for sectarian murders and police collusion.

The unionist monument is now being erected on what was previously marketed as “shared space” in the town centre. It is ironically being funded by the Orange Order from a grant of almost a million pounds in peace funds contributed by the European Union earlier this month for “building confidence among Protestants”.

Thousands of people are expected to attend the unveiling next month and two loyalist parades from different sides of the town will converge in the centre ahead of the dedication.

The wording of the Ulster Covenant, vowing to oppose ‘Home Rule’ and the devolution of powers to an Irish parliament, will be inscribed on one side. A section of a speech by then unionist MP Colonel Saunderson to the House of Commons in which he said “Home Rule may pass this house but it will never pass the bridge of Portadown” will be written on the other.

Sinn Féin Craigavon borough councillor Johnny McGibbon said the monument would be interpreted by many as a sign that unionists still perceive the town as a ‘Protestant centre for Protestant people’.


The signing of the Ulster Covenant was marked last month by the Dublin government with a speech by Stormont First Minster Peter Robinson in the 26-County Department of Foreign Affairs last month. It was the first major official event in the decade of centenaries.

Republican Sinn Féin leader Des Dalton said the emphasis on the Ulster Covenant was “quite apt” as it symbolised the fundamental difference in the vision for Ireland held by Irish Republicans as opposed to the forces of unionism and imperialism represented in the Covenant.

Mr Dalton was speaking at a seminar to launch its build-up to the Centenary of the 1916 Rising in 2016.

“The ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ is written in the narrow, sectarian and patriarchal language of empire, while the 1916 Proclamation addresses itself to ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’ in the inclusive language of democracy, progress and human freedom,” he said.

Mr Dalton said the build-up to the centenary of the 1916 Rising was already developing “into a battle over not only how we view our past but also the vision we have for our future,” he said.

“A kind of state sponsored amnesia is employed in an attempt to erase the more uncomfortable aspects of our history. Those very aspects of 1916 that serve as a reminder of how far short the political establishment and the state over which they preside falls short of the ideals set out in the 1916 Proclamation.”

He said the official emphasis on the Ulster Covenant was the first step in a campaign to dilute and sanitise the various centenaries.

“Over the next four years the centenaries of the founding of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan will be marked.

“Next year we will remember with pride the heroic 1913 Lockout. Therein is a message to the trade union leadership of today - another stark reminder of how far removed they are from the founding ideals of the trade union movement at precisely the moment when a vibrant and radical trade union movement is most required.”

Other anniversaries include the landing of the arms off the Asgard in 1914 and Pearse’s oration at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa are milestones on the road to the centenary of the Easter Rising.

“The years after 2016 will bring the centenaries of the historic 1918 General Election - the last occasion in which the Irish people acted as a unit in a single vote on the question of Ireland’s right to national independence,” Mr Dalton said.

“The Tan War, the British Government of Ireland Act which partitioned Ireland, the Treaty of Surrender and the subsequent Civil War or Counter-Revolution all will be reminders of where we have come from and how far we have still to travel.”

He linked the “old imperialism of British occupation” to “the new imperialism” of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

In this regard, he said Irish republicans “unapologetically” believed that 1916 is unfinished business while Ireland’s “historic right to nationhood” continues to be denied.

“This is the unpalatable truth that the establishment most fear in the message of 1916 and it is what gives 1916 its continued relevance for a new risen generation,” he said.

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© 2012 Irish Republican News