Row over bid to mark 100th anniversary of NI

Cllr Mark Baxter
Cllr Mark Baxter
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A motion to commemorate the centenary of the Northern Ireland state was passed by a majority unionist vote at Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council with nationalists vehemently opposed.

It was brought by the DUP’s Mark Baxter, who said it aims to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the inception of NI but denied there was any wish to be divisive.

Sinn Fein Cllr Catherine Nelson

Sinn Fein Cllr Catherine Nelson

However, nationalists across the council united to disagree with the motion, branding partition a ‘failed entity’ and the motion a ‘sham fight’.

The motion was passed with 22 votes for and 13 against - mostly along unionist/nationalist lines.

Proposing the motion, Cllr Baxter said the 100th anniversary will be ‘a momentous occasion in our nation’s history’.

“I brought this motion not to divide but to reflect on and to celebrate all that is good about our magnificent country and to highlight all those things that unite us

“There is a great opportunity to not just to celebrate our rich industrial heritage but to look to the potential of business, the economy and industry in Northern Ireland,

“Any celebration agreed for Northern Ireland’s 100th birthday should reflect on its great strengths and on what makes Northern Ireland a great place to live, work, visit and invest in. Sometimes we forget this, but we have a wonderful, rich and vibrant industrial heritage in this part of the world. We should be immensely proud of people from here, and the entrepreneurial spirit shown

“We also have excelled in the world of sport producing the world’s best. We only have to think of George Best, Alex Higgins, Rory McIlroy, Jonathan Rea and Colin Turkington to name but only a few

“We also must look at and reflect on the history not less because our very council area shares a name with those instrumental in the formation of Northern Ireland namely Lord Craigavon

“I trust as a council we will make 2021 a year to remember and continue to promote all that is great about Northern Ireland.”

However, nationalists were unimpressed with the motion.

SDLP Cllr Joe Nelson said: “It hardly comes as a surprise that we as nationalists would not see this in the same light.

“Anything that commemorates the partition of Ireland, nationalists would have a problem with.”

Cllr Nelson said it was not so long ago that NI was a ‘cold place for Catholics’ who ‘were denied even playing on a swing on a Sunday’.

He said the Good Friday Agreement was a long and hard fight but it had been ‘sidelined’ by the DUP. He branded NI as a ‘failed entity

Independent unionist Paul Berry condemned the ‘hatred that has been shared’ in the chamber.

He accused nationalists of having a ‘victim-type story’ and said ‘not too many of us will forget the bad days of the IRA’.

“Sinn Fein have lived off the fat of the British government for years.”

Ulster Unionist Cllr Jim Speers supported the motion saying the council should reflect on the many achievements of NI.

SDLP Cllr Thomas O’Hanlon described the motion as a ‘sham fight’

Speaking after the meeting Sinn Féin Cllr Catherine Nelson said: “A motion to ABC Council by the DUP to celebrate a century of the Northern state was an attempt to rewrite the history of the brutality, discrimination and repression created by partition.

“Partition is characterised by conflict, death, collusion, a lack of truth and justice and rights denied to the LGBT community, Irish language speakers & women.

“The motion is typical of this unionist-dominated council which continues to ignore and treat with contempt other perspectives and experiences.

“A council that has spent £40,000 on ceremonial robes, £90,000 for Queen Elizabeth’s birthday celebration and £250,000 for a narrow perspective of World War 1 related events now wants to isolate Nationalists and Republicans further with this additional frivolous spend.

“A century of partition witnesses led half a century of unionist misrule, institutionalised structural and regional inequalities which will take generations to reverse.

“The forced partition of Ireland failed both working class Protestants and Catholics on both sides of the border.

“Those who faced the brunt of the Orange State will see nothing to celebrate and we concur.

“The failure of partition should not be celebrated.”

Aontu Cllr Fergal Lennon said: “The partition of Ireland has had a dramatic and negative effect on the economy and society of the north of Ireland. The government in London has ignored the economy in the north for generations and with the threat of Brexit we need to start to reverse the division on this island. The all Ireland economy is the best way to ameliorate the threat of Brexit. We now need to create an all Ireland convention to map out what Irish unity will look like.”