The BBC NI website yesterday led with the headline: ‘Unionist leaders request £14k for centenary stone’. As the story said, unionist party leaders have asked for help to cover the cost of a stone at Stormont to mark Northern Ireland's centenary, perhaps costing taxpayers £14,000. The report was an important reminder of a scandal, but not the one readers might have thought, of taxpayer waste. The scandal is that the stone is the only recognition of NI having turned 100 in 2021.
To placate nationalists, the province was not allowed a centenary. Organisations with Northern Ireland in their name were too cowardly even to say Happy Birthday! There was nothing apart from a long loyal orders march to which the national broadcaster devoted a brief report. Schoolchildren will barely have known of the date, despite the growth in people identifying as Northern Irish.
There was no celebratory church service. An ecumenical service in Armagh became one that just marked all 1921 events. The words Northern Ireland were barely spoken. BBC NI’s top evening news angle on the service was the Roman Catholic Archbishop referring to the pain of partition.
The Protestant churchmen either did not know he was going to say so or did but were too timid to counter such a view explicitly. And this service, which was an insult to anyone who wanted to celebrate their country, was too much for President Michael D Higgins, an Irish president who masquerades as a reconciliatory figure but has been anything but.
The West Belfast Festival, which always ends in IRA chanting, is lavishly funded yet unionist leaders had to offer to pay for a stone, the cost of which has inexplicably soared. London is writing a £100m+ blank cheque for the GAA Casement stadium, yet unionists have to have a whip round to get a stone that marks NI at 100.