NI centenary marked by UK government with £3m spend

NI centenary marked by UK government with £3m spend

The UK government is to spend £3m on events marking the centenary of Northern Ireland next year.

Details of the plans will be announced on Monday afternoon by the Northern Ireland secretary of state.

Brandon Lewis will also reveal more information about the branding, Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100, that is going to be used to promote centenary events.

Northern Ireland was created in May 1921 after the partition of Ireland.

Speaking ahead of the official launch, Mr Lewis said: “2021 marks 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, which paved the way for the formation of the United Kingdom as we know it today.

“We will use this opportunity to hear untold stories, to promote Northern Ireland on the world stage and to celebrate its people, culture, traditions and enterprise.”

On a visit to Belfast in August, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the centenary needed to be marked “sensitively”.

Unionists believe the centenary should not just be marked, but celebrated.

However, Sinn Féin takes a very different view, with Michelle O’Neill saying “there is nothing to celebrate”.

A consultative body, the NI Centenary Forum, was set up in September to discuss plans for the centenary.

It includes representatives from business, tourism, voluntary, community sectors and political parties but neither Sinn Féin nor the SDLP accepted invitations to attend.

However, the Northern Ireland Office insists it contains “diverse perspectives” and that a “bold and ambitious” centenary programme has been created.

Mr Lewis said: “The government is planning an exciting programme to promote Northern Ireland’s potential across the UK, and also internationally.

“Next year is the time to shine a light on what makes Northern Ireland so special, and to look forward to a bright future.”

Last month, the government announced the creation of a Shared History Fund, making £1m available to support events connected to the centenary run by community, heritage, voluntary and other non-profit organisations.

As well as official events to mark the centenary, other groups are making plans for 2021.

The Orange Order is organising a special parade next summer.

Analysis

One thing is certain about the Northern Ireland centenary plan, it is not going to please everyone.

Nobody expects an attempt to replicate the 50th anniversary when a festival was organised in Belfast, under the slogan Ulster 71 – come and join in the fun.

Half a century later, it is clear a more balanced approach is required.

Nonetheless, unionists have been urging the government to ensure there is a strong celebratory aspect to the centenary programme.

A group of pro-union people have also come together to form their own Northern Ireland-wide centenary committee.

They have a produced their own centenary logo and merchandise, including flags, mugs and cushions.

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