The 2021 Centenary Anniversary presents a golden opportunity to announce that Northern Ireland has finally come of age. A time to guarantee particularly to our younger generations a real sense of belonging to a contented country.
2021 can either be the breaking or the making of a community reaching maturity. A time in history when the Northern Irish determined that they will be a settled people for decades to follow.
Irrespective of Sinn Fein’s quarrelsome intention to force home a negative narrative denouncing the legitimacy of the past 100 years, Unionism is open to approaching the celebrations with due sensitivities and respect. There can be no justifiable reluctance by nationalists to participate. They should not absent themselves under pressure from extremists.
Considering what all generations came through, each with their own story, the achievement of surviving is a tribute to an incredible journey of bravery. That in itself is worthy of a resounding celebration.
There is no shame or blame attached in being proud of your heritage. Pride in whom you are is a badge of honour to be respected, which is why the immensity of moving beyond 2021 presents a gargantuan challenge to all democrats. It is no longer about searching for an answer to the question previously asked over fifty years ago by a modernising unionist leader ‘what kind of Ulster do you want?’ 2021 must deliver a Northern Ireland fit for a new era. Especially welcoming as plans are being organised, is the revealing evidence of an increasing number of residents from all walks of life here prepared to say that they are ‘comfortable with their Northern Irish identity’.
For the many unionists like me this is a breath taking breakthrough. It is how it should be – even if it has taken a century to achieve!
The challenge is to build on the growing numbers rejecting Sinn Fein’s outmoded political process and bankrupt philosophy – making it clear to the unionist leaderships the need to keep the wayward elements within loyalism tied to celebrations and not unruly triumphalism – and not to be sucked into tit for tat sectarianism.
The repulsive anti-internment bonfires burning stolen poppy wreaths, union flags and an effigy of a hanged Orangeman was a grotesque portrayal of the evil of extremists which has no place in society. It is why Northern Irelanders will embrace the bubble of badness bursting.
Good reason too for unionism to respond to the swing in nationalism away from the extremities of Sinn Fein by recognising that such a positive trend must be matched by making 2021 a catch all celebration.
Celebrations aside. Fine words do not make for action. It can be said that Northern Irish civic society has proved it can cope with accommodating non-violent political diversity. Now they must demand that 2021 delivers accommodation in bucket loads.
People are crying out for political leadership with a ‘get up and go’ confidence, a mentality driving the country’s prosperity forward in a relaxed mood of a new found normality.
Let 2021 be the opening of a new chapter for the Northern Irish. ‘Make it work’.