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Centenary illustrates Northern Ireland's strength, says Foster


First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

First Minister Arlene Foster

Northern Ireland's centenary shows its ability to endure "countless" prediction of its demise, Arlene Foster has said.

The First Minister made the statement during a pre-recorded online event hosted by Queen's University to mark 100 years since the introduction of the Government of Ireland Act.

The legislation, which came into force a year later, paved the way for the partition of the island, with the creation of two parliaments: one in Belfast and another in Dublin.

It was later repealed as part of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

The pre-recorded virtual event, which was streamed online yesterday, also included speeches from Sinn Fein Deputy Minister Michelle O'Neill, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.

During her speech, Mrs Foster said that a "flaw" within nationalism over the past century had been its adherence to historicism - the theory that social and cultural phenomena are determined by history.

"Irish nationalism and republicanism is wedded to historicism," she said.

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"In my opinion, its attraction is (that) it disposes of the need to self-evaluate, engage with opponents or to change. It imprisons its believers.

"Northern Ireland's centenary year demonstrates the poverty of historicism.

"How many predictions of Northern Ireland's impending demise were made over those 100 years? Countless, but every prediction (was) confounded.

"Unionism has never subscribed to historicism. This freedom is a strength.

"Every prediction is to plant a seed of doubt, but our response should be self-belief."

The DUP leader stressed the centenary was an occasion that should enable us to "look forward to the new century ahead".

The First Minister also suggested that the 100th birthday, which will be officially marked next year, could serve as a springboard to launch a single education system for Protestant and Catholic children.

During her video speech, Mrs O'Neill repeated her party's position that 100 years of partition was not a cause for celebration within nationalism, with the Sinn Fein vice-president insisting that splitting the island had "failed the people".

Mrs O'Neill also reiterated her belief that unification could happen in the next 10 years.

She said that it was time for a wider conversation about the possibility, one involving all sections of society on both sides of the border.

"The issue of Irish unity has taken on a new dynamic because of Brexit. Demographics are changing and so too is the political landscape. This cannot be ignored," she said.

Mr Lewis and Mr Coveney both acknowledged that there would be different perspectives on the history of Northern Ireland's creation.

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