‘Sinn Fein determined to start culture war with unionism’: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Sinn Fein’s obstructionist approach to the NI centenary commemorations appears designed to “start a culture war with unionism,” according to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

“And this from a party that demands respect for culture and identity and yet doesn’t accord any respect to the culture and identity of unionists,” the DUP leader said.

“I have been deeply disappointed by the attitude of Sinn Fein, and it’s evident now that it doesn’t just relate to events that are taking place at Stormont.

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“It now includes local council areas, where they have numbers on local councils, they are doing everything they can to thwart even the most low-key events to mark the centenary.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

“There is incredible pettiness on their part. It seems they are determined to start a culture war with unionism over the future of Northern Ireland.”

Sir Jeffrey said that far from being the “failed statelet” often referred to by republicans, Northern Ireland has endured for a century in the face of numerous terrorist onslaughts.

“Given what Northern Ireland has been through during the last 100 years, much of it directed against the state by extreme republicans like Sinn Fein, I think there is much to celebrate in the fact that we survived that onslaught – and that Northern Ireland continues to move forward,” he said.

“When Sinn Fein talk about equality, I think we are seeing exposed in the public domain just how lacking in equality towards unionism they are, and indeed towards many in Northern Ireland who don’t designate themselves has unionists but simply want to mark the fact that Northern Ireland has existed for 100 years.”

The proposed 'centenary stone' that was not approved for Parliament Buildings at Stormont

Sir Jeffrey added: “Sinn Fein is part of the government and, as such, they have a responsibility to provide good government, and to move forward on the basis of respect and equality. So it’s time they started demonstrating that in their actions as well as their fancy words.”

Commenting on the Queen having to cancel her trip to Northern Ireland for the centenary church service in Armagh and other engagements this week, the DUP MP said: “Of course we were disappointed that Her Majesty wasn’t able to join us to celebrate Royal Hillsborough, and to attend the service, but we entirely understand the reasons why and we wish Her Majesty a full recovery at this time.

“She is very much in our thoughts and prayers, and I do hope that she will be able to find time to visit Northern Ireland either later this year or early next year in her platinum jubilee year.”

PUP councillor Dr John Kyle said some unionists have been disappointed “at the low level of commemoration and celebration” of the centenary, which in part has been due to the “sectarian” approach of Sinn Fein.

(Left to right) First Minister of NI Paul Givan, Secretary of State for Brandon Lewis and PM Boris Johnson at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh. Photo: Pacemaker

The east Belfast representative said: “It is partly due to Covid, which has had a dampening effect, and it’s partly due to the budgetary difficulties that we are facing as well.

“It is also recognised that this is a contested island and that celebrations can be contentious. So the context has been difficult, but I think it has been done in a dignified and respectful way.

“It has been complicated by a sectarian, divisive attitude from Sinn Fein, and by a meanness of spirit which is contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

“I say that, recognising that there needs to be a measure of restraint in terms of those celebrations – so that it is not a case of inappropriate triumphalism.”

Commenting on council support for events deemed “unionist,” Cllr Kyle said: “There has been a disparity. Sinn Fein clearly favours their own activities, and have objected to some activities that would have been more focussed on the unionist community. That is an inequality that needs to be dealt with politically, and politicians need to work together to address that inequality”.

However, Cllr Kyle added: “The unionist community needs to recognise they are no longer a majority, that we live in a country of minorities... we do need to become more politically responsible.

“Unionists have shown irresponsibility in not engaging with electoral politics, by not voting and not shouldering their civic responsibilities fully, so I think this is a wake-up call.

“Democracies only work if people participate.”

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