Unionist parties bid to install NI centenary stone at Stormont approved

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Unionist parties have received permission to install a commemorative stone to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary in the grounds of Stormont.

It follows a row between the parties in 2021 – the year of Northern Ireland’s centenary – when Sinn Fein opposed the proposal.

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd vetoed the initial request at the Assembly Commission, a body which manages Stormont’s property, staff and services.

But Mr O’Dowd stepped away from his role on the Assembly Commission in 2022 after he was appointed Infrastructure Minister.

Sinn Fein were not able to nominate a replacement because the Assembly has been unable to function due to DUP protest action over Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

The commission, chaired by Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey, currently consists of representatives of four of the five largest parties at Stormont – DUP, UUP, Alliance and SDLP.

A spokesperson for the commission said it had met on Monday and there had been consensus among the four members who hold office to agree the proposal.

They added: “Therefore, officials will now be working through the process required to give effect to the decision.”

In a joint statement, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, UUP leader Doug Beattie and TUV leader Jim Allister welcomed the move.

“We are pleased that, though belatedly, the Northern Ireland Centenary will be marked permanently in the curtilage of Parliament Buildings by a centenary stone,” they said.

“It was over two years ago that the Assembly Commission refused a collective request from the leaderships of our parties to erect such a commemorative stone, causing great hurt to the unionist community.

“Earlier this month we renewed our request to the Assembly Commission. This time they have given approval, which is most welcome.”

The unionist leaders said the stone, which will be in the shape of a map of Northern Ireland, will be mounted on a Portland stone plinth, on a raised area to the west of Parliament Buildings.

“The stone will be paid for by unionist MLAs and therefore will not cost the public purse,” they said.

“We will give details in due course of the public unveiling of the stone.”

In 2021 Sinn Fein said it vetoed the proposal because the stone had been “designed and commissioned by representatives of one tradition” and accused unionists of failing to consult with other parties about their plan.

On Wednesday a Sinn Fein spokesperson said it is “bizarre that the three unionist parties are focused on a stone” amid the latest crisis in the powersharing government.

“Sinn Fein opposed a stone to celebrate partition when this was previously raised at the Assembly Commission,” the spokesperson said.

“Sinn Fein currently has no vote on the Assembly Commission.

“It’s bizarre that three unionist parties focused on a stone while the Assembly is being blocked from doing business on the real issues which are affecting the lives of all our people, such as restoring the Executive, passing vital legislation such as Daithi’s Law, tackling health waiting lists and supporting workers and families through a cost-of-living crisis.”

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