A war of words has broken out between unionists and nationalists over plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the creation of Northern Ireland.
The bitter row started after a proposal was put to the unionist-dominated Mid and East Antrim Council to mark the centenary of the formation of the Province in 2021.
The DUP motion calls on the local authority to celebrate the achievements of people from the Province, and to commemorate significant events that have taken place over the last century, including the Second World War, the Belfast Blitz and the Troubles.
Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy has described the move as “an attempt to rewrite the history of the brutality and repression created by partition”.
But DUP group leader on the council, Alderman Gregg McKeen, said he wanted any event which marked the creation of NI to be “inclusive”, and accused Mr Murphy of “cranking up sectarian division”.
While the motion received overwhelming support at the council’s monthly meeting on Monday, Sinn Fein’s Patrice Hardy and SDLP’s Declan O’Loan voted against it.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr O’Loan said there was “not much reason” to celebrate the creation of NI, describing the Province as “nothing but an economic and social failure”.
He told elected members: “At partition, the six counties contributed 80% of Ireland’s industrial output, and Belfast was the biggest city. The situation has now totally reversed. Exports from Ireland in 2017 were €280bn, while in NI they were €10bn.
“We are as divided a society as ever we were. Violence is endemic, paramilitary groups continue their activity, we have had numerous years when no local government was possible, and the Assembly hasn’t sat for the last two years.”
Mr O’Loan’s remarks sparked a strong reaction from Ian Paisley, who said nationalist rhetoric “can only survive if it talks down the Union and NI”.
The North Antrim DUP MP told the News Letter that the “continuous campaign of terror” waged by the IRA had “stunted the economic growth” of Northern Ireland.
“It is convenient for nationalists to ignore this as their ideology benighted from its consequences,” he added.
“Despite the 40 years of terror, NI has survived, now boasts the lowest levels of unemployment in our history, the highest levels of inward investment outside of London and is a hub for many key businesses. Nationalism survives on a dialogue of talking down NI hence I am not surprised by such comments.”