PM promises “sensitive” NI centenary during trip
During a visit to Northern Ireland this week, prime minister Boris Johnson said that next year’s centenary celebration of the country should be held in a “sensitive” manner “to the point of view of all communities”.
It was Johnson’s first trip to Northern Ireland since the Stormont Assembly was restored in January.
Next year’s centenary will mark 100 years since May 1921 when the partition of Ireland occurred, creating the country of Northern Ireland.
The PM said that a centenary forum and a historical advisory panel would be formed as part of the first phase of putting centenary celebration plans together, and that commemorations would be carried out with the “maximum possible academic focus and really try and get to the heart of the stories of all the possible perspectives and just try and build an appreciation of the past that has made us all.”
Johnson met with Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill at Hillsborough Castle during his stay.
Looking forward to making plans for the centenary, Foster said: "I think it is an event for the whole of the Northern Ireland, looking forward to the future, looking forward to our young people having a place in the world, and that is what I want to see happening for our centenary plans.”
However, O’Neill from the Sinn Féin party said that the centenary offered “nothing to celebrate” and should be marked by a “reflective and honest” discussion about the partition of Ireland and the “failures” of the move.
The Republic of Ireland's new taoiseach Micheál Martin was also present at Hillsborough Castle, meeting the prime minister for the first time since the new Irish government was formed.
Johnson said that he was “very pleased to develop” his “friendship and relationship” with Martin, whom he said he had “the honour of meeting several years ago”.
Martin said that he and the prime minister had agreed to create new mechanisms which will ensure continued co-operation between the UK and the Republic of Ireland after the post-Brexit transition period lapses in December.
The end of the transition period will see a new trade system come into motion for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove having already announced £355 million of government funding to get the system up and running.
While explaining that the Northern Ireland protocol was of huge importance, Johnson stressed that there would be no trade border in the Irish Sea once Brexit comes fully into motion, promising that Northern Ireland would enjoy the full freedoms of access to markets across all three countries in Great Britain.
The PM added that he was relishing the opportunity to develop relations between the UK and the Republic, while Martin said that he looked forward to a warm working relationship with his counterpart.
Martin said: "It is important for us both in terms of the British-Irish relationship which has been the cornerstone of much progress on the island of Ireland and between our two countries for well over two to three decades, and we want to maintain that.
"It is challenging times ahead with Covid, Brexit, all of that."