The nationalist response to Northern Ireland centenary commemorations has been disappointing, says Orange Order chief

A senior Orange Order figure has expressed disappointment that nationalists have been largely unwilling to commemorate the centenary of Northern Ireland in any way.

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 6:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 6:11 am
Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson. Photo: Mark Marlow/Pacemaker press

Grand Lodge grand secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson said he feels particularly aggrieved as, in 2016, he attended a number of events marking 100 years since the Easter rebellion that eventually led to partition.

“I feel the same respect hasn’t been shown to Northern Ireland’s centenary as unionists showed to the 1916 commemorations in the Republic of Ireland – indeed, the department of foreign affair’s Simon Coveney wouldn’t even appoint people to sit on the committee in Northern Ireland when he was offered to do so,” Rev Gibson said.

“I attended many of the [1916] events myself. I went to anything I was invited to that didn’t commemorate those involved in the Rising itself, but there were other reconciliation events I attended, and would have supported.

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“The Republic of Ireland’s government put a lot of effort and money into their events in their country and quite rightly so. However, from nationalism there has be almost opposition, or only lip service, to the centenary.”

Rev Gibson said the Covid pandemic had ensured the first of the NI centenary events would be much more low-key than anticipated, but said that would change as the restrictions are gradually relaxed.

He also said he has been disappointed at the “lack of support from Westminster, from the [NI] Executive and from councils” for centenary events.

“I fully understand and respect that there are people who have no time for Northern Ireland, thus it would be hypocritical for them to celebrate it, however, the voting patterns of the SDLP and Sinn Fein in blocking finances for it, the failure of the Executive to set any money aside for the centenary, and what I would describe as the government’s watered down version of what should have been done, has been disappointing.”

Rev Gibson added: “People are planning things for the rest of the year, because we have always said it was a year-long celebratory event, and as Covid restrictions ease you will see a lot more things happening.”

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