Ulster Unionist Party leader, Steve Aiken OBE MLA, said:
“The Centenary of Northern Ireland is a time of pride, commemoration and hope for the future. That 'our wee country' has achieved so much is nothing short of remarkable. The achievements in science, industry, sport, the arts and so much more, has shown that our greatest asset, our people, have not only been influential in our nation of the United Kingdom, but across all of these Islands and across the globe. It also says much that despite the names I will mention, we will all think of many more.
“That Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Mary Peters, Frank Pantridge, James Martin, George Best, Kenneth Branagh, Willie John McBride, James Magennis VC, Joey Dunlop have all called Northern Ireland their home, is something we can all take pride in.
“Furthermore, it is sometimes forgotten, that we have also been a place of innovation and invention – from cutting edge Pharma research, FinTech, Ejection Seats, Vertical Take Off and Landing Aircraft, Portable Heart Defibrillators, Cyber Security, Food Production and Veterinary Medicine; Northern Ireland ideas and products have changed the world.
“Today Northern Ireland innovators, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are creating new technologies and turning them into products that will be the new global leaders – and we will be at the centre of the ‘Internet of Things’, Artificial Intelligence, Gene Therapy, ‘Smart Grids’, Renewal Technology and Energy Storage and will also be a hub for the creative industries. Not too bad for a small part of the United Kingdom with just under two million people.
“We also have to commemorate our past. Throughout its existence Northern Ireland has been contested; its legitimacy and right of its people to determine their own path has for so many years been resisted, both by violence and by political action. This has also been coupled with our strategic importance; who could deny the central role we played in the Battle of the Atlantic, the war production capacity of our famous shipyards and aircraft works, and the heroism of our many veterans. The efforts made by the Luftwaffe to blitz Belfast out of existence were second only in their attempts on London.
“That the Government of Ireland Act of 1921 marked, but a momentary lull in attempts to remove us from the United Kingdom, is oft forgotten. While much of the ’history’ appears to be revisionist or utilised as part of a continuing political narrative, the very real impact of terrorism must never be forgotten. That the scourge of sectarianism, of hatred and bigotry has blighted generations of our people, is a sad reflection.
“The impact of this, and economic travails, has also driven many of our friends and family away from our shores; the many who have made great contributions to the new communities they have joined are assets we could ill afford to lose. Many of our diaspora still have strong links to what they still see as their home; whether it is through links with their family, through sporting clubs, with friends, or maybe just through that hard to define sense of belonging – ‘a shared home place’.
“I want to live in a Northern Ireland where our diaspora want to come back, to visit, to rekindle their links, to invest in, and to be proud of.“Finally, it is our hope for the future, for the next 100 years, and the great potential we all have, that fills me with excitement.”