David Campbell: Centenary service was an insult so we need to make plans for a proper celebration of Northern Ireland at 100

A letter from David Campbell:

Friday, 29th October 2021, 2:18 am
Updated Friday, 29th October 2021, 2:23 am
Prime Minister Boris Johnson with church leaders at the service to mark the centenary of partition/Northern Ireland on October 21. It would be a travesty if the rest of the world were to think that the service was reflective of opinion in NI. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye

I, like many others, looked forward to a year of events during 2021 that would appropriately mark the centenary of our country, Northern Ireland.

Indeed, the selective, cherry-picked panel chosen by the NIO to advise on this momentous year promised as much.

Regrettably, and notwithstanding the unforeseen impact of the Covid pandemic, the actual outworking of the centenary commemorations has been woeful and downright insulting to the four generations who have worked to make Northern Ireland a successful and valued member of the United Kingdom over the past hundred years.

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Letter to the editor

One event that I thought might salvage the year however was the proposed Divine Service. My naive hope was that this would be in a large, national Cathedral namely St Anne’s in Belfast and that all sections of Northern Ireland’s communities would be able to attend and participate and collectively give thanks to Almighty God for preserving our nation despite the most despicable threats and attacks over that century.

Instead, a small exclusive congregation, assembled under strict invitation only, to hear an hour or so of humbug.

The scene was set in the very first sentence pronounced by the BBC presenter who advised us that this service was ‘to commemorate 100 years since the partition of Ireland ...’

There then followed an hour of homilies to political correctness in which the words ‘Northern Ireland’ were scarcely mentioned.

At least three of the church leaders should be shamed of themselves for allowing this insult to our country and its centenary to be perpetrated.

They should be aware of the deep hurt and offense that has been caused throughout Northern Ireland, not least in their congregations.

In 2010, as the then chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party I convened a committee of representatives of all the unionist parties and loyal organisations to consider and plan for a decade of centenaries.

Through the hard work of many, exceptional commemorations were held to mark the centenaries of important events such as the 1912 covenant and the Battle of the Somme. The events were attended by thousands of proud Ulstermen and women and were respectful and peaceful.

We made a grave error however in leaving the organisation of our national centenary to those who from the outset refused to recognise the centenary of Northern Ireland as a cause for celebration.

At the risk of being presumptive, I have written to the unionist leaders and others, to seek the reformation of the Centenary Committee to plan for a proper commemoration and celebration of Northern Ireland’s centenary.

It would be an inexcusable travesty if the rest of the world were to think that last week’s service were reflective of opinion throughout Northern Ireland.

David Campbell, Co Antrim

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