Sir Keir Starmer has paid tribute to Prince Philip, who has died at the age of 99.
The Labour leader said: “The UK has lost an extraordinary public servant in Prince Philip, he dedicated his life to our country.”
Sir Keir Starmer has paid tribute to Prince Philip, who has died at the age of 99.
The Labour leader said: “The UK has lost an extraordinary public servant in Prince Philip, he dedicated his life to our country.”
Northern Ireland’s young people and community investment at the heart of UK Government’s centenary programme
· An extensive young people’s programme to inspire youth to shape Northern Ireland’s future
· £1 million fund awarded to 39 community projects across Northern Ireland as part of a Shared History Fund with the National Lottery Heritage Fund
· A major Northern Ireland 2021 Business Showcase in London to boost investment and build back better.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis has unveiled an extensive programme of projects and events to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021.
This includes a major Northern Ireland 2021 Business Showcase in London, a £1 million Shared History Fund, an ambitious programme for young people, tree planting projects, academic and historic events and a Cultural Programme
In addition, stakeholders from across Northern Ireland are delivering activities including a George V event in Belfast City Hall and an International church service for all denominations.
The initiatives reflect the UK Government’s commitment under the New Decade New Approach deal to showcase Northern Ireland’s economic, cultural and social achievements on a local, UK and international stage when marking this key anniversary. This will entail reflecting on the past and looking forward to a bright future for Northern Ireland, with the programme focusing on investment, young people, culture and the environment.
The centenary will also highlight the strength and beauty of the diverse perspectives and identities within the four nations of the UK which make our Union unique.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said:
“The UK Government’s centenary programme of events provides 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 the UK and the world.
“In its 100th year, the people of Northern Ireland can build on their spirit of togetherness and recognise their enormous achievements over past decades.
“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.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:
“2021 marks 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, which has paved the way for the formation of the United Kingdom as we know it.
“Our centenary programme will reflect on the past and on the people and developments that make Northern Ireland the great place it is today.
“The activities will pay tribute to all those who have worked tirelessly to support Northern Ireland throughout the pandemic, and will champion the incredible young people in Northern Ireland who offer so much to the shared success of our United Kingdom.”
Our Story in the Making programme includes;
· A Shared History Fund – working in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, £1m has been awarded to 39 community projects across Northern Ireland, to research and demonstrate what 100 years of Northern Ireland has meant to them and their community. Projects will mark the centenary in an inclusive way, giving a wide range of people the opportunity to participate and understand the key events and history which made Northern Ireland the place it is today.
· Historic Centenary Event – Belfast City Council will host an event marking the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament on 22 June 1921, by King George V. This event will take place in the Council Chamber, exactly one hundred years on from this historic occasion.
· Building Back Greener – every school in Northern Ireland will be presented with a native tree, to plant in their grounds. Each school will be encouraged to video their planting ceremony and share with the world, via ourstoryinthemaking.com, their moment in marking the centenary and working towards a greener future.
· Our Future Northern Ireland – an extensive young people’s programme exploring what the future will look like in the next 100 years, and how they can shape it to become the nation they want it to be. Working in partnership with Youth Action Northern Ireland across the mediums of live performance, radio and social media the young people of Northern Ireland will engage and showcase their hopes and ambitions for Northern Ireland’s next 100 years.
· Launch of the ‘Centenary Rose’, a unique flower of reflection and hope, produced in Northern Ireland for the centenary and planted in the gardens of Hillsborough to flower throughout the summer of 2021 and beyond. A Centenary Rose will be presented to Her Majesty the Queen for her own garden, and there will be a decorative rose pin designed and produced in the UK, to be worn by VIPs at centenary events, and given to programme participants. A small number will also be available to purchase in exchange for a charity donation.
· Hosted by the Churches, an International Service for all denominations in the autumn.
· A reception at Hillsborough Castle and historic buildings across the UK will be lit to signify a bright future for all.
· Academic Events – working in partnership with an expert Historical Advisory Panel and academic institutions including Queens’ University Belfast. A Reflection of the Government of Ireland Act, through further events which seek to explore and deepen our understanding of the historical context of the centenary. Further details of the Historical Panel’s programme will be announced by Lord Bew and the Panel members soon.
· Marking the Centenary – in partnership with Royal Mail, a special postmark reading “Our Story in the Making – Northern Ireland Beyond 100’, will be applied to stamped mail sent around the world. Stamped mail across the UK will receive the postmark from 26 April to 3 May. From 3-29 May, stamped mail originating in NI will have the postmark applied. Promotion of the 2021 Northern Ireland, First and Second Class stamps will be showcased in Post Offices around the UK.
· Build Back Better – London will pay host to a Northern Ireland 2021 Business Showcase. Companies and organisations from across Northern Ireland will promote their products, services and expertise; networking and meeting with international companies, governments and investors to showcase the very best on offer to boost exports and investment into Northern Ireland.
· Born in Northern Ireland – a dedicated cultural programme showcasing the talents and contribution of those born in Northern Ireland. Encompassing communications activity and a series of live and on-line events to promote and highlight the talents and skills of people from Northern Ireland; from doctors and teachers, contributors to the Covid-19 efforts, to writers and artists, actors, singers, poets and dancers. As part of ‘Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100’ campaign, this strand will run from May to September, culminating in a VIP reception and public centenary concert.
Political Affairs Group
Loyalist Jim Wilson on the Newtownards Road in Belfast. Photograph: Stephen Davison
Jim Wilson has seen tension on the streets of Belfast for much of his life. Today, he uses the image of the boiling kettle to describe the atmosphere in loyalist areas: “It’s simmering and simmering.”
“And then it’ll start to come to the boil. A lot of us are trying to calm it down … but the frustration in our communities, it is really serious. People are trying to keep a lid on it.”
A former member of the loyalist paramilitary group, the Red Hand Commandos, Wilson is now a community worker in east Belfast trying to calm tensions caused by the controversy over the Northern Ireland protocol.
“The very last engagement we want in our communities is violence of any description,” says Wilson; the only thing the flags protests of 2012-13 achieved was to give over 300 kids criminal records, he emphasises.
‘One minute the vote for Brexit was a UK-wide thing, but now what they’ve said is the UK voted to leave but Northern Ireland, you have to stay a wee bit there’
“Violence has hurt us in the past and it’ll hurt us in the future and we don’t want violence,” he goes on. But his declaration, speaking to The Irish Times, comes with a caveat.
“I’m not saying violence is totally out the window. We’re a bit long in the tooth, there are younger lads coming through … they’ll push us aside and say, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter what you say’.”
Graffiti voicing opposition to the Irish Sea Border and the Northern Ireland protocol – which loyalists oppose because it places a customs and regulatory border between the North and the rest of the UK – first appeared in January, and has mushroomed since the controversy over the European Commission’s hastily aborted plan to trigger article 16 and the temporary withdrawal of some staff at Belfast and Larne ports amid concerns for their safety.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) subsequently said these threats were not credible, with both the police and loyalist sources attributing them to individuals or small groups, not loyalist paramilitary organisations.
However, the concern now is that the further tensions are raised, particularly among the younger generation, the more difficult the situation might be to control.
“It just seems to be taking and taking and taking of the unionist community,” says Wilson. “[The Protocol] is probably the biggest kick in the teeth we have had from the government in the United Kingdom in a long, long while.”
“One minute the vote for Brexit was a UK-wide thing, but now what they’ve said is the UK voted to leave but Northern Ireland, you have to stay a wee bit there [in the EU],” says Jim, a north Belfast community worker who works mainly with young people in the Tiger’s Bay area.
He is the only one of a number of community workers from loyalist areas in Belfast and north Down who would be fully identified talking The Irish Times because of the past abuse they have received on social media.
There is the sense that unionism is treated with a ‘lack of respect’ by nationalist politicians, and by those in the Republic
For example, there is frustration and anger over how loyalists are portrayed by the media, as well as successive incidents within their own communities that have fuelled disillusionment and resentment.
They list these as including unfounded claims made about loyalist communities in north Belfast following the disappearance and death of schoolboy Noah Donohoe in June.
Then, there is a Belfast City Council motion that clears the way for a minority of people in a community to ask for the erection of Irish language street signs.
Then, there was the unhappiness caused internally when Crusaders FC – a north Belfast club with a strong tradition in loyalist areas – backed calls for an all-island league.
Finally, and this appears often in conversations with loyalists, there is the sense that unionism is treated with a “lack of respect” by nationalist politicians, and by those in the Republic.
Such factors are symptomatic, they argue, of the extent to which their identity is being undermined. “People are now just collectively demonising everything about being British in Northern Ireland, and it’s working,” says Jim.
Brexit has brought a united Ireland forward, “there’s no doubt about it,” says Martin, from the Shankill area of west Belfast. “Somewhere along the line there will be a big, major discussion on a united Ireland
“It’s inevitable, but the way it’s being done at the moment, it’s getting forced down your throat without your opinion or how you feel about it,” he tells The Irish Times.
Of the protocol, he says, “we’re saying clearly in unionist communities it won’t work because we don’t want it to work. It’s aggressive, it’s offensive, it totally demeans our situation in our own state, and nobody seems to care.”
Unionist parties have called for the protocol to be scrapped, expressing concern not just about the constitutional implications but also the impact on businesses and the availability of goods in the North since it came into effect.
A DUP online petition calling on the UK government to trigger Article 16 to secure “unfettered” trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, has attracted more than 142,000 signatures. It will be be debated in Westminster on Monday.
Last week Reach UK, an east Belfast community organisation which represents former loyalist paramilitaries, called for “calm and rational” engagement to lower tensions and solve issues related to the protocol; Wilson points out that so far, “the leaders of loyalism have been very, very quiet”.
“This is in the hands of politicians, and if the politicians don’t sort it and fix it then that’s where you run the risk … that then loyalism might look at it in different ways.”
On the streets, “what I’m hearing from young and old, people are talking silly stuff about violence,” says Jim. “These are people who I never would have thought would have talked that way, so you’re not talking loyalists here but all shades of unionism from top to bottom. They’re really angry.”
He puts it down to “windbagging” rather than a serious call for violence. Nevertheless, he emphasises that he and others present lived through the Troubles and “it’s probably those who didn’t engage in violence are shouting it the loudest, but they’re still shouting it and young people listen to that.”
“You stand at the market on a Saturday and you hear someone saying they can’t get the fish from Scotland, and then that ripples around, and that’s where you hear the talk, ‘Oh, we should do this, why don’t the boys get out’, and that’s where it gets dangerous,” says David, a community worker in Ards and north Down. “Somebody will listen to that and think that’s what people want.”
“It’s a catalogue of things and it’s just building and building and all it takes is one kid pointed in the wrong direction and you’ll have kids going to jail again,” says Martin.
His concern is for the summer ahead, and the marching season; he explains that young people now begin collecting wood for the bonfires – traditionally lit in loyalist areas on the eve of July 12th – as early as March or April.
“You know what there is an appetite for? A long, long summer,” he says. “See when the kids start building for bonfires here, and you then have councils going in and moving them … they feel that everything they do as far as tradition round bonfires is getting taken away year by year, bit by bit.
“That’s going to fuel an awful lot of violence from young lads whom people can’t stop over the summer months.”
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A loyalist sign in Lurgan, Co Armagh, about the Belfast Agreement amid tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
A community organisation which represents former loyalist paramilitaries has called for “calm and rational” engagement to lower tensions and solve issues related to the Northern Ireland protocol.
East Belfast-based Reach UK also gave its support to a plan announced by the DUP last week to “free” Northern Ireland from the protocol.
In a statement the organisation said it “endorses the five-point plan from our country’s First Minister, and call on all to engage with it as a first step to resolving the divisive Irish Sea border and Northern Ireland protocol”.
All parties in Northern Ireland should “calmly and rationally engage with the UK government to address the protocol and Irish Sea border issues, which are causing such alarm within all our communities”, it said.
It is understood these sentiments are backed by the loyalist paramilitary groups the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando, and by loyalist community groups.
Loyalists and unionists are opposed to the protocol – the part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which relates to Northern Ireland – because it places a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea between it and the rest of the UK.
An online petition by the DUP calling for triggering of article 16 in order to secure “unfettered” trade between Britain and Northern Ireland reached the required 100,000 signatures within 24 hours, with the party receiving notification on Friday that it will be debated at Westminster later this month.
The petition was part of its five-point plan which also includes the boycott by the DUP of all cross-Border activity related to the protocol and the opposition of all protocol-related measures in the North’s Assembly.
The DUP leader, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, said on Friday that people needed to “take heed” of what was being said by the unionist community. “There has to be recognition in London, Dublin and Brussels that damage has been done by this protocol and therefore we have to deal with it.”
However, a joint statement released by the EU and UK following talks on Thursday night gave no indication either side was prepared to abandon the protocol, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the EU vice-president Maros Sefcovic reiterating their “full commitment” to it, and saying they had agreed to find “workable solutions on the ground”.
In recent weeks graffiti opposing the protocol has appeared in loyalist areas, and staff carrying out physical checks on goods at Larne and Belfast ports were withdrawn from work for a time over concerns for their safety.
Questions have since been raised about the decision-making process which led to their withdrawal. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has consistently said there was no credible threat and those responsible were “individuals or small groups”, an assessment backed up by loyalist sources.
Those sources have described growing tensions in their areas, and while it is understood former paramilitary groups have no desire for a return to violence there are concerns that if tensions continue to rise this could become harder to maintain.
Instead of the protocol Reach UK said it supported a mutual enforcement proposal from the pro-Brexit think-tank the Centre for Brexit Policy, also backed by former Ulster Unionist party leader Lord David Trimble, which it claims will avoid customs checks by having the UK and EU agree to recognise each other’s standards in law.
In its statement it called on everyone in Northern Ireland to sign the DUP’s petition “extending the 100,000 signatures to 250,000, not as a party-political exercise but as a measure of province-wide opposition to the Northern Ireland protocol and Irish Sea border”, and called on the British government to fulfil its commitment to “delivering unfettered access” within the UK internal market.
It also warned the Belfast Agreement had been promoted during Brexit “as a totally green document”. If the agreement could not be implemented “inclusively, pro-union citizens will have no choice but to withdraw all support” from it.
Reach UK endorses the 5 point plan from our countries First Minister and call on all to engage with it as a first step to resolving the divisive Irish Sea Border and NI Protocol. We also ask all within Northern Ireland to sign the relevant petition extending the 100,000 signatures to 250,000, not as a political party exercise but as a measure of province wide opposition to the NI Protocol and Irish Sea Border. We also pledge every support to those legal professionals within the pro union business community who may wish to launch a legal challenge to the protocol and end the uncertainty within all our lives. Reach UK is a non political entity and stress that these should not be seen as party political initiatives but as a societal imperative for us all. We implore all to set aside selfish or political career interests and work for a solution to the benefit of all within Northern Ireland. Reach UK calls on all parties in Northern Ireland to engage calmly and rationally with the UK government to address the NI Protocol and Irish Sea Border issues which are causing such alarm within our communities. As a possible way forward we support the idea, as we understand it, from The Centre for Brexit Policy’s proposal that Mutual Enforcement can provide the way forward. This arrangement would see the UK and EU recognising each others products and services in law, thereby negating the need for checks on goods going between UK and Northern Ireland. As Owen Patterson states under this arrangement only checks on goods going between EU and UK are required allowing for UK sovereignty to be protected and the Irish Sea Border to be abandoned. Mutual Enforcement works by inverting the normal approach to customs enforcement with compliance placed as law on the exporter of the exporting territory, critically the importing territory asserts its jurisdiction beyond its border and the border position becomes redundant. If Lord Trimble, whose role in bringing about the GFA is often downplayed, can support this, we feel it needs to be addressed as a sensible way forward. Furthermore on behalf of all Pro Union people we urge the UK government to fulfil the spirit of its published White Paper which commits to “delivering unfettered access for NI businesses to the whole UK market”, enshrining this principle in law as promised in the New Decade New Approach agreement also that the UK Internal Market will support our commitments on unfettered access, ensuring that they form part of a coherent UK wide system.
As to the Good Friday Agreement, this has been promoted during Brexit, by those in Eire, the EU and USA as a totally Green document serving only Republican/Nationalist interests. The dangers of this blatant sectarian approach have been highlighted by our members to the Eire and UK governments over several years to no avail. The EUs aggressive triggering of Article 16, immediately effecting a hard border on this Island, after years of issuing threats against any such move has driven a stake through the heart of the GFA which may yet prove fatal. Should all pro union stakeholders gradually withdraw support from the political process of the Good Friday Agreement, history will record that it was the EU that killed it.
Indeed if the GFA cannot be implemented inclusively then Billy Hutchinson’s recent assessment that Pro Union citizens will have no choice but to withdraw all support from the GFA would seem to be the only way forward. Were it not for the intensive work of the PUP and UPRG the GFA would never have been delivered, an inconvenient truth for many, so when people like Councillor and Party Leader Billy Hutchinson make this assessment it needs to be listened to. After his article, an example of being demonize occurred when he was dismissed as “a Loyalist Activist” rather than by his position or title by journalists, thus implying he is somehow “shady“. This in the same week as our First Minster being referred to as “Foster“ on television. These offensive discourtesies which never seem to be applied to Republicans only serve to alienate our community along with the Medias continuous referring to Loyalists as Terrorists but the IRA as Operatives. However these pale into significance compared to the SDLP and Alliance hysteria and sectarian contempt vented on those members from the pro union community who dared to engage in democratic and lawful discussions with civil servants on the future of our country, this from parties who engage on a daily basis with “former”(?) Republican terrorists who voted in council in support of Sinn Fein IRA proposals over 85% of the time in a twelve month period, and who continue to sanitise the IRA and its litany of crimes since the days of the Pan Nationalist Front. This contempt for all things Unionist highlighted long ago as a cold house in 2002 by SOS John Reid and again by Tony Blairs right hand man Jonathon Powell when he acknowledged that the UK government, Eire government and others had pandered to every whim of the IRA and left behind and ignored the PUL community have contributed to the current sense of alienation and betrayal, and needs to be addressed urgently.
If we are to continue to resolve our differences by peaceful dialogue then Taoiseach Michael Martin should apologise for the extreme and belligerent attitude taken at all times by Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney during Brexit discussions. With the backing of 28 EU countries they attempted to steam roll over the GFA protections promised also to the pro union citizens in Northern Ireland, a different attitude would have brought us to a better place today, and not destroyed 20 years of genuine North South cooperation and good neighbourliness. Perhaps the appointment of a Special Ambassador in the mould of Bertie Ahearn to repair North South relations would be the first step of conciliation between our two nations, he would find in the Ulster people integrity, courtesy and forgiveness.
REACH UK committed to an inclusive and diverse society for all within the British Isles.
A delegation from the Loyalist Communities Council has met with the Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Office, Madeleine Alessandri, to be briefed on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol following the UKs’ withdrawal from the European Union. The delegation comprising David Campbell (Chairman), Winston Irvine, Jimmy Birch, and Robert Williamson relayed concerns from loyalist/unionist areas that Northern Ireland would be treated separately from Great Britain and asked the NIO to ensure that HMG acted quickly to minimise disruption and to ensure that there would be no actual or perceived diminution in Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.
The delegation strongly criticised the Irish government and nationalist representatives for only representing a nationalist perspective of the Belfast Agreement during the negotiations with the EU and asked the NIO to ensure that the new US President and Administration was briefed on the need for impartiality and respect for the majority position in Northern Ireland when it comes to dealing with NI/US issues. The LCC has repeated its appeal to loyalists to remain calm during this transition phase but also warned the NIO that it would be monitoring how Northern Ireland citizens would be treated under the new dispensation and would consider sponsoring legal action to protect the position of unionists if that became necessary.
The LCC delegation also emphasised the importance of appropriate events to mark the first centenary of Northern Ireland and has asked the NIO for an explanation as to why the loyalist community has been excluded from the Centenary Forum established by the Secretary of State.