Northern Ireland news

Centenary church service provides opportunity for a 'common commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation'

Brandon Lewis revealed details of projects and events to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland's foundation

AN INTERNATIONAL religious service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland's foundation will provide an opportunity to affirm a "common commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation", church leaders said last night.

The leaders of the Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Methodist churches released a joint statement after details of the events and projects to mark the north's centenary were unveiled yesterday by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

In addition to the church service for all denominations, the centenary will be marked with a schools' tree planting project, a business showcase and a special commemorative post mark.

Mr Lewis revealed how £1 million of National Lottery cash has been earmarked for a Shared History Fund that will see 39 community projects "research and demonstrate what 100 years of Northern Ireland has meant to them and their community".

Belfast City Council will host an event at the City Hall marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament in the building on June 22 1921, by King George V.

A so-called Centenary Rose, a flower the British government said would represent reflection and hope, will be produced in the north and planted in the gardens of the royal residence at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down. The same variety of rose will be presented to Queen Elizabeth for her own garden.

Mr Lewis said the programme of events provided an "opportunity for us all to reflect on the history of Northern Ireland and to take pride in all this fantastic place has to offer".

"I hope that these projects and events will help drive Northern Ireland's post-Covid recovery forward, inspire the next generation and showcase to the world the beauty, innovation and tenacity of the people of Northern Ireland."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the centenary programme would champion young people and also pay tribute to those who worked tirelessly to support the region during the pandemic.

"2021 marks 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, which has paved the way for the formation of the UK as we know it," he said.

"Our centenary programme will reflect on the past and on the people and developments that make Northern Ireland the great place it is today."

Nationalists have given the plan a cool reception, however, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood acknowledged that "there should be space for people to commemorate that aspect of their identity".

"But for others, partition was, and remains, a traumatic constitutional event that kick-started decades of discrimination," the Foyle MP said.

"Unfortunately, I see very little evidence that the British government's programme will create the space for sensitive and balanced reflection."

In a joint statement, Presbyterian Moderator Rev David Bruce, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland Rev Dr Thomas McKnight, All-Ireland Catholic Primate Eamon Martin, and his Church of Ireland counterpart Rev John McDowell said they were "deeply mindful" that the events of 100 years ago evoked a range of responses.

"For this reason, this point of reflection will provide an opportunity to affirm our common commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation," they said.

They highlighted how the service will be their initiative and that the church leaders will be wholly responsible for its planning, organisation and design.

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