Northern Ireland news

Northern Ireland Centenary Forum 'does not have any documents mentioning Seamus Heaney or Mary Peters'

The image of Seamus Heaney used for the "Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100"

THE forum which is helping to organise £3 million plans to commemorate Northern Ireland's centenary does not hold any documents about the use of images of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney or Olympian Mary Peters in an advertising campaign.

The Irish News asked in a Freedom of Information request what documents the Northern Ireland Centenary Forum has which include any references to Ms Peters or Mr Heaney.

In its reply, the Northern Ireland Office said the forum was "briefed and consulted on the approach to the brand Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100".

However, it also said: "We have checked our records and can confirm we hold no documents from the NI Centenary Forum in which either Seamus Heaney or Mary Peters are mentioned."

The reply will raise further questions about how Mr Heaney and Ms Peters were chosen to front the advertising campaign.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis formally launched plans shortly before Christmas to mark 100 years since the founding of Northern Ireland in 1921.

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

However, the inclusion of a portrait of Mr Heaney, who was born into a farming family in Bellaghy, Co Derry, has caused controversy.

The use of the portrait was heavily criticised by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood who described it as a "cynical attempt to co-opt Seamus Heaney’s image and reduce his work to a branding tool to promote that narrative about partition".

He later said: "I just don't believe in that kind of cultural appropriation where you adopt very well thought of cultural figures and use them in kind of a branding exercise".

Mr Heaney, who died at his home in Dublin in 2013, often spoke of his Irish Catholic and nationalist heritage and once wrote: "Be advised, my passport's green / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen."

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) initially said permission to use the portrait of the late poet was sought from the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University Belfast. It later said approval came from the university.

Glenn Patterson, director of the Heaney centre, said it could not have given permission because it does not own the portrait.

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