Boris Johnson says NI centenary is ‘obvious’ cause for celebration as O’Neill declares state ‘built on sectarianism’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the centenary of Northern Ireland’s existence next year is “obviously” a cause for celebration for him, as Sinn Fein’s NI leader declared that the state was “built on sectarianism”.

Thursday, 13th August 2020, 8:57 pm
Updated Monday, 17th August 2020, 4:42 pm
Mr Johnson at a photo op at a Belfast ambulance centre on Thursday

The issue of the 100th anniversary of partition today brought the orange/green divide at the top of the Province’s politics to the fore, with Michelle O’Neill critising the nature of the emergence of Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile First Minister Arlene Foster meanwhile said it is “important that we mark these next year centenary events in a way that does not cause offence and in a way that is inclusive”.

On Wednesday night, before Mr Johnson’s visit to Northern Ireland today, the government had revealed that it plans to set up two distinct bodies to plan events for the centenary – a Centenary Forum and Centenary Historical Advisory Panel.

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However, little additional light was shed during today’s visit on what exactly these bodies will do, and how they will be made up.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) was asked who would appoint members to these bodies – whether it would be the Westminster government, or the Northern Ireland Executive.

If the latter, it is likely Sinn Fein will exercise a veto on who can serve on them.

The NIO was also asked whether members of the bodies will be paid.

It responded: “Participation in these advisory groups is voluntary. A full list of all panel members will be announced in due course.”

Speaking today 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 of course I appreciate there will be plenty of people who take a different point of view. So what Micheal Martin [the taoiseach, whom Mr Johnson met today] and I agreed was that we need to look at this with the highest degree of academic rigour.

“We need to engage people in the study of the past and we learn to appreciate the spectrum of feeling and analysis about the events that made us all, and that’s what we are going to do.

“Whether you call it a celebration or a commemoration – however you want to mark it – it’s very important that it should be marked.”

Speaking on Radio Ulster, Ms O’Neill said: “The north was built on sectarianism, on gerrymandering, and an in-built unionist majority.”

This was not something she “could ever celebrate”.

Sinn Fein was asked if it will seek membership of any bodies to mark the centenary.

Its press office responded: “Any centenary forum or centenary historical advisory panel has to take into account the context of the centenary and the varying views on it.

“It must recognise and reflect the views of nationalists and republican who see no cause for celebration with the centenary of partition and have that legitimate viewpoint reflected in a mature and reasonable manner.

“We will take all opportunities to present our vision for the future which we believe is best served through Irish unity and the reunification of all people across this island.”

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