Boris Johnson to meet Taoiseach during Northern Ireland visit
British PM to announce two new groups to mark next year’s centenary of creation of the North
Britain’s PM Boris Johnson: ‘Together we will make sure Northern Ireland is ready to take full advantage of the many opportunities that lie ahead, and that no part of Northern Ireland is left behind.’ Photograph: Getty Images
During his visit Mr Johnson as prime minister will hold his first face-to-face meeting with Micheál Martin since he was appointed Taoiseach.
“They are expected to discuss the shared fight against coronavirus and work on a sustainable economic recovery, and the UK’s negotiations with the EU,” Downing Street said in a statement on Wednesday night.
Mr Johnson is also scheduled to meet First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.
Downing Street said discussion would focus on “how we can build the UK’s economy back stronger and better than ever”.
Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Johnson laid great emphasis on the theme of the union.
During the visit he will also announce plans to establish a Centenary Forum and Centenary Historical Advisory Panel to work alongside the British government to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland.
“As we mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland it is important that we celebrate its people, culture and traditions, along with its vital contribution to the United Kingdom, ” he said.
Downing Street said the 2021 centenary programme would “celebrate the people, places and products of Northern Ireland, with its rich sporting, cultural, entrepreneurial and academic talent”.
While this is a sensitive matter with obvious differing views on the matter from unionists and nationalists, Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis said this was a “fantastic opportunity for people right across the UK to celebrate Northern Ireland and its integral place within our union”.
“We will use the centenary next year to promote it on the world stage,” he said.
Mr Lewis said the forum and the advisory panel “will offer us the opportunity to work with a broad spectrum of people, including those from across the political parties, business, tourism and the voluntary and community sectors, to deliver an ambitious and exciting programme of events to mark this significant national anniversary for the UK”.
Mr Johnson said the coronavirus pandemic had demonstrated the strength of the UK, and how Westminster and Stormont had worked closely together to get through the crisis. He said these close ties would continue.
“As the country begins to get back on its feet in the wake of coronavirus, we cannot simply strive to rebuild, but we must commit to building back stronger than ever. I cannot overstate how important the close co-operation that we have seen between central and devolved government will continue to be to this,” said Mr Johnson.
“Together we will make sure Northern Ireland is ready to take full advantage of the many opportunities that lie ahead, and that no part of Northern Ireland is left behind.”
Downing Street said that over the course of the pandemic the British government had protected more than 316,000 jobs in the North and granted thousands of businesses loans.
“The UK’s armed forces transported critically ill patients to where they could receive the required treatment. This is on top of £2.2 billion additional funding the Northern Ireland Executive will receive this year for its Covid-19 response,” it added.
“This close collaboration can also be seen through the government’s UK-wide PPE strategy, which made sure that front line workers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had the equipment they needed to stay protected.”
It added that the British government had delivered 4.7 million pieces of PPE to Northern Ireland, which in turn provided 250,000 medical-grade gowns to England.
It also said that Westminster and Stormont also jointly funded a £5.7 million support package for City of Derry and Belfast City airports.
It added: “This kept these airports going during the incredibly challenging peak phase of the pandemic, protecting key routes and safeguarding air connectivity between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – meaning key workers could still travel, repatriation flights could continue and people could access healthcare services.”
The Johnson visit was due to take place last week but was postponed due to the death of John Hume.