“Ministers agreed that it was appropriate and necessary for the Executive to set the tone and provide leadership”

Northern Ireland Executive logo

The Executive has decided to take the lead role in organising events for the forthcoming Decade of Commemorations. (Thursday, 15 March 2012)

The political, social and cultural consequences of what happened during the decade of 1912 -1922 reverberate throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to this day.

So starts a statement from the NI Executive.

A mere fortnight before the centenary of the Titanic’s sinking, you’d think that the decade of commemorations had snuck up on the NI Executive and surprised them.

It’s as if the political, social and cultural ramifications of historical events have thus far been absent from politicians’ minds. As if it was only last week that the consequences of the Ulster Covenant and the Easter Rising, the implications of the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish National Volunteers, and the effect of the Battle of the Somme have properly dropped into local political thinking.

It has been unanimously agreed that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure will jointly bring forward a programme for a decade which will offer a real opportunity for our society to benefit economically and continue its transformation into a vibrant, diverse and enriched place to visit.

In the absence of any serious political leadership, historical, community, cultural and religious organisations have been taking a lead role for several years in framing the principles that will responsibly observe and reflect on the series of events that shaped history on this island. To their credit, even Belfast City Council hosted a conference last year to bring a wide range of organisations together. [UpdateRemembering the Future was organised by the Community Relations Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and held in the City Hall on the 21 March last year.]

Many of the commemorative anniversaries throughout the decade have international as well as local significance and will inevitably attract higher numbers of visitors to the region.

These significant events will be organised under the principles of; educational focus, reflection, inclusivity, tolerance, respect, responsibility and interdependence.

Ministers agreed that it was appropriate and necessary for the Executive to set the tone and provide leadership in putting an official acknowledgement process in place.

Why did it take so long for ministers – DETI’s Arlene Foster (DUP) and DCAL’s Carál Ní Chuilín (Sinn Féin) – to come to a public agreement? It feels like their definition of “provide leadership” is being modelled on closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Setting tone and providing leadership happens early in a process, not after plans are already in place. We may be four years away from the centenary of 1916, but most of the planning for how 1912 will be remembered happened last year, and will dictate the maturity of the approach to the anniversaries that follow.

Maybe the Executive will now seek to set a similar tone and leadership on other cross-departmental issues such as educational underachievement and investment in early years, suicide prevention and mental health awareness, improving the public perception of the devolved structures and the level of scrutiny and accountability they offer …

One educational and reflective response to events a hundred years ago is a play that has been long in planning, writing and production. 1912, A Hundred Years On – exploring the Ulster Covenant through drama and talk continues its short run this week with performances in

  • Tuesday 20 March at 7.45pm // Marine Court Hotel, Bangor
  • Wednesday 21 March at 7.30pm // Sean Holywood Arts Centre, Newry
  • Thursday 22 March at 7.30pm // Westbourne Presbyterian Church, Belfast
  • Friday 23 March at 7.30pm // Down County Museum, Downpatrick

Reviewed on Culture Northern Ireland, further details about the performances and venues can be found on the Contemporary Christianity website.