Plans to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland have received a mixed reaction from Irish politicians after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the division of the island was “obviously” a cause for “celebration”.
On Wednesday night, before Mr Johnson’s visit to Belfast, the London government had revealed that it plans to set up two distinct bodies to plan events for the centenary – a “Centenary Forum” and a “Centenary Historical Advisory Panel”, although the make-up of the bodies has not yet been decided.
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Johnson said of the centenary: “From my point of view it is something obviously to celebrate, because I love and believe in the union that makes up the United Kingdom, the most successful political partnership anywhere in the world.
But he said he had agreed to “look at” the centenary “with the highest degree of academic rigour” because of nationalist concerns.
“As we mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland it is important that we celebrate its people, culture and traditions, along with its vital contribution to the United Kingdom,” Johnson said, without irony.
British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis said there was a “fantastic opportunity for people right across the UK to celebrate Northern Ireland and its integral place within our union”.
“We will use the centenary next year to promote it on the world stage,” he said.
Meanwhile, the hardline unionist TUV called for celebrations to be organised directly from London in order to avoid Sinn Féin interference.
TUV leader Jim Allister said he would like to see Queen Elizabeth address the Stormont Assembly and attend a “large scale garden party”; a specially minted commemorative coin; an RAF fly past; a visit of leading British Royal Navy vessels; a remembrance event for the Crown Forces and an exhibition featuring celebrities from the Six Counties, which would then tour Britain.
Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the emergence of the Six County state was not something she “could ever celebrate”.
“The north was built on sectarianism, on gerrymandering, and an in-built unionist majority.”
She added: “Partition failed this island and failed Britain. It not only divided our island but also our people and was devastating for our economy. Any event or forum looking at the centenary of partition must include a reflective and honest conversation on partition, its failure and how we move in to a new decade.”
In a bizarrely waffling response, the current 26 County Taoiseach Micheal Martin said his “party has never advocated for partition but we have moved a long way” since 1921, and “it’s not about one persons narrative”.
“That’s what for the Good Friday Agreement is all about, transforming the narrative around the north-south relationship and it has done.
“It’s important to recognise that we actually have moved a long way... in terms of focus on... shared institutions and bodies....far greater interaction north and south in sporting or tourism...
“Both trying to understand our past and bring people to a shared understanding of the past... as a teacher, I sought students to question why things happened, to trigger that type of response to try and get them to question why.”