Northern Ireland news

NIO says permission for Seamus Heaney image used in NI Centenary branding received from QUB

The image used for the "Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100" comes from Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University Belfast, who hold rights to the portrait

AN image of Seamus Heaney will be used in branding for a £3 million plan to commemorate Northern Ireland's centenary.

However it was unclear last night if the family of the Co Derry-born poet and Nobel laureate have backed the use of his image in the "Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100" initiative.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis formally launched the plans to mark the milestone at a Policy Exchange event in Belfast yesterday.

A colour painting of the poet, who was born into a rural Catholic family in Bellaghy, was among the images unveiled to promote next year's centenary events, as well a photograph of Mary Peters from her win at the 1972 Munich Olympics and other images highlighting tourism and business.

Heaney, who died at his home in Dublin in 2013, often spoke of his Irish Catholic and nationalist heritage and growing up in rural Bellaghy.

Analysis: Northern Ireland centenary celebrations likely to be toe-curlingly bland or offensively jingoistic

He once famously wrote : "Be advised, my passport's green / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen."

He also wrote: "Loyalism, or Unionism, or Protestantism, or whatever you want to call it, in Northern Ireland - it operates not as a class system, but a caste system."

When asked last night if the NIO had sought approval from the Heaney family, a spokesman said only "permission for use of the Seamus Heaney portrait was received from the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University Belfast, who hold rights to the portrait".

The NIO spokesman also said the "purpose of the centenary brand is to showcase stories from all communities and all geographic areas, both historically and into the future".

Details of planned events were not revealed yesterday and are expected to be published at a later date.

Mr Lewis said the "brand will celebrate Northern Ireland’s amazing people, places and products".

"The government is committed to Northern Ireland’s prosperity and will offer a range of events that will showcase its economic potential," he said.

"This is why we have set aside a total of three million pounds to fund this centenary programme."

DUP MP Gavin Robinson said he believed the branding "very clearly illustrates how much we do have to celebrate within our history over the last 100 years, drawing upon the great innovation, the great sporting icons, legends, musicians - all that we have achieved which is worthy of celebration".

"I think that is encapsulated in the branding."

But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the "history of Ireland cannot be reduced to a branding exercise that ignores the layered complexities of our society".

"What is clear is that this is much too an important an event to be reduced to a branding exercise," he said.

"The SDLP has chosen not to take part in the NIO Centenary Forum precisely because we do not believe that the British government is truly interested in telling the difficult story of partition."

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy also said republicans will not celebrate the centenary but respect that others will.

"There will be celebrations for some people; for other people it is a period of reflection to look at the impact that partition has had on this island for 100 years and all the negative consequences that have flowed from that," he said.

A photograph of Mary Peters from her win at the 1972 Munich Olympics is used in the branding

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