irishtimes-Government officials have attended meetings of Northern Ireland’s Centenary Forum on an ad-hoc basis, it has emerged.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said on Sunday it was not a member of the Forum, but its representatives had been invited to, and had attended, seven meetings of the body, and remained “available to attend future meetings if invited to do so.”
They had done so, the department said, “to ensure good communication and sharing of experience in terms of our respective [Centenary] programmes,” adding that departmental officials had been engaging with a “broad range of stakeholders from Northern Ireland”, including Northern Ireland Office [NIO] officials and members of the Forum, “to inform the Government’s approach to the forthcoming centenaries.”
The Centenary Forum was set up by the Northern Ireland Office – which represents the UK government in the North – to advise on the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Northern Ireland in 1921.
The Forum, which met for the first time in September, includes community representatives and politicians from the DUP, Ulster Unionist party and Alliance.
Sinn Féin and the SDLP declined to take part, and have said the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland is nothing to celebrate.
The Sunday Business Post reported on Sunday that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, turned down an invitation from the Northern Secretary, Brandon Lewis, to nominate an official to sit on the Forum.
The newspaper quoted details of email correspondence from the minister obtained through a Freedom of Information request in which he informed Mr Lewis he would not accept the invitation.
“We would not propose that the Irish Government (through the Department of Foreign Affairs) be a member of or be formally represented on the forum,” Mr Coveney wrote.
Instead, he said, he would be open to nominating officials to attend on an “ad-hoc basis” with a view to “ensuring good two-way communication, sharing of experience and viewpoints and, where possible and appropriate, cooperation in our respective planning for forthcoming centenaries.”
A UK government spokesperson told The Irish Times it was “committed to working collaboratively on our ambitious programme to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, including with the Irish Government.
“2021 marks a significant milestone in the history of Northern Ireland and provides an important opportunity to facilitate national recognition and international awareness of Northern Ireland, reflecting on our shared history and building for the future.”
A programme of events to mark the North’s centenary was announced by the British government earlier this month.
It includes a £1 million shared history fund for community groups, an interdenominational church service and a programme which encourages young people to explore what the next 100 years might look like, as well as a business show case event in London, a special postmark and a “Centenary Rose.”
Academic events which reflect on the historical context of the centenary will also be held in partnership with an expert Historical Advisory Panel.
The North’s Assembly will also hold a series of talks and events.
A proposal by the DUP, Ulster Unionists and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) for a commemorative stone to be erected at Parliament Buildings at Stormont was rejected by Sinn Féin.