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Historian Éamon Phoenix disputes DUP date for Northern Ireland's foundation

Dr Éamon Phoenix said Northern Ireland's centenary on 3 May 2021 is "wrong in terms of historical events"

ONE of the north's leading historians has questioned the date put forward by the DUP to mark the region's centenary.

Political historian and Irish News columnist Dr Éamon Phoenix said of a plan by the DUP to mark the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Northern Ireland on "May 3, 2021" as "wrong in terms of historical events".

The date has been proposed in the party's Assembly election manifesto as a "one-off public holiday".

The policy pledge attracted lots of attention on social media on Monday but mainly because of a double typing error in the manifesto, which incorrectly claimed "Northern Ireland was established as a legal entity on May 5, 2021" – rather than May 3, 1921, which is the date given by Wikipedia for the northern state's foundation.

The DUP has acknowledged that it got the date wrong – twice – and has since corrected the error in the online version of its manifesto.

One party insider said May 5 had "slipped in" as it was to the fore in people's minds because it was the date of the assembly election.

However, she was unable to offer any explanation for being 100 years out with the year. It is understood there were at least another three typing errors in the manifesto.

Notably, May 5, 2021 will mark the 40th anniversary of the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

A DUP spokesman held his hands up to the mistake.

"It is compliment to the quality of the policy proposals contained within the DUP manifesto that the only comments raised by critics have been to point out a minor typographical error," he said.

"May 3 has been chosen as a date to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland as it is the date on which partition took effect under the Government of Ireland Act."

But according to Dr Phoenix, to celebrate the founding of Northern Ireland on May 3 would be historically inaccurate.

"There is no reason to mark May 3 – or May 5 for that matter," he said.

"No book I've ever seen mentions that date and what's more there are several other dates that can better lay claim to be the north's official birthday."

The senior lecturer in history at Belfast's Stranmillis University College said the alternative dates included:

:: 20 December 1920 – enactment of the Government of Ireland Act which partitioned Ireland;

:: 22 June 1921 – George V convenes new Northern Ireland parliament in Belfast;

:: 6 December 1921 – Treaty gave north option to opt out of Irish Free State;

:: 7 December 1922 – Northern Ireland Parliament opted out of Irish Free State;

:: 3 December 1925 – Tripartite agreement between Belfast, Dublin and London whereby south recognises border.

"No matter what way you look at it that date in the DUP manifesto is not only wrong in terms of the century and millennium but it's also wrong in terms of historical events," he said.

"There is no validity to the May 3 date – if they've taken it from Wikipedia then they need to realise that isn't necessarily the most reliable source."

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