Westminister has urged Stormont to take the lead in preventing a series of sensitive anniversaries from being exploited.
Northern Ireland Minister, Hugo Swire, said it was for the Executive and the political parties to ensure nobody is able to “hijack history to suit their own narrow and biased agendas”.
He was speaking in a Westminster debate organised by Alliance MP Naomi Long, who pointed to a number of centenaries coming up between 2012 and 2022 — including the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the First World War, the Easter Rising and partition of Ireland.
Ms Long highlighted work already taking place ahead of the anniversaries, including Belfast City Council's commemorations working group and a commemorations committee being established by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
There was no doubt, she told MPs, that “history casts a long shadow forward”.
The MP for Belfast East said the period between 1912 and 1922 had been one of “considerable change and turmoil”.
She added: “Handled well, the coming decade has the potential to allow us to explore our past together, aiding understanding through education and discussion, and helping us to learn from our past and to consider how we can create and shape stronger and better relationships.
“By contrast, if handled poorly, it has the potential to be a highly charged and fractious period, marked by deepening antagonism and division in society,” the MP added.
The DUP's William McCrea warned against people trying to “rewrite the history of the United Kingdom or Ireland”.
Ms Long said it was crucial that the Westminster Government played a role in the process.
Mr Swire replied: “Although the UK and Irish governments must play a significant role in ensuring that we approach this decade in a constructive and complementary manner, the greatest challenge will lie in ensuring that that approach is adopted in Northern Ireland.
“It is there that the Executive and the mainstream political parties must take the lead in ensuring that those who would seek to undermine the political process do not have the opportunity to do so,” he said.
The Government is hoping the anniversaries will follow the example set by the Queen's visit to the Republic of Ireland in May.
Some of the anniversaries due to be marked during the next 10 years:
- 1912, Signing of the Solemn League and Covenant against Home Rule.
- 1916, Easter Rising.
- 1916, Battle of the Somme.
- 1918, Armistice that ended the First World War.
- 1919-21, Irish War of |Independence.
- 1921, Signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that led to the creation of Northern Ireland.