Brandon Lewis quizzed on future of Northern Ireland at 100, in online talk

Secretary of State Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis today unveiled £3m to celebrate the centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021.

Monday, 14th December 2020, 8:25 pm
Updated Monday, 14th December 2020, 8:54 pm
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis in an online conversation with the Policy Exchange: 'Northern Ireland beyond 100: Rt Hon Brandon Lewis CBE MP in conversation with Dean Godson'.

He spoke at length in an online event today, ‘Northern Ireland, beyond 100’ with Dean Godson, Director of the Policy Exchange Think tank.

Asked by Mr Godson if he thought there would be an NI in 100 years, Mr Lewis, replied “Absolutely”, while noting that people have questioned its future for decades.

He was struck this year by the way people had “come together through Covid to support each other across communities” and has engaged historians to create a shared history of NI, he said.

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Joining them online, First Minister Arlene Foster noted that Irish nationalism is wrongly wedded to the belief that “events will deliver political outcomes for them” but that she had heard “many predictions of Northern Ireland’s demise” since she was a child.

Mr Lewis added that economically NI should also be selling its strengths in cyber, renewable energy, the creative arts, tourism and culture around the world.

He emphasised that despite Brexit, NI would retain “unfettered access” to trade with GB but also that NI will have “this unique position” for businesses to invest in “so that they can trade around the UK and with the EU” at the same time.  

Historian Ruth Dudley Edwards put it to Mr Lewis that the government is allowing Sinn Fein to rewrite history to make the IRA seem like the victims of the Troubles — and the security forces the perpetrators.

Mr Lewis responded that “we should be very proud of those who served” while also praising the role of the armed forces during the pandemic.

However the News Letter then pressed him that he had not really answered Ms Dudley Edward’s point and that if anything underlines any pessimism about the Union it is the British government’s weakness on legacy. He had that very morning on Radio Ulster still not ruled out a public inquiry into one killing, that of Pat Finucane, out of the thousands of killings.

Mr Lewis responded that there had been a Supreme Court ruling in that case saying there had not been an Article Two investigation. He said that it was important not to create a hierarchy of victims, acknowledging “a huge number of people” out there “are still seeking information and justice for crimes committed by terrorists”.

He also praised Arlene Foster for calling the Irish government to account for transparency over legacy. “The First Minister has quite rightly written to the Taoiseach about having that conversation around the Irish government opening up... transparency is important.”

UUP MLA Doug Beattie said yesterday: “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”.

However Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy that for others it is a period of relection to look at “all the negative consequences” of partition.

Meanwhile SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said like other recent centenary celebrations “it will challenge us to show generosity and respect for the differing experiences of our traditions and communities”.

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