Northern Ireland

SDLP says DUP Commons motion one-sided

house of commons
Image caption NIO minister Hugo Swire praised the quality of the debate which he said had been a good one

An SDLP MP has criticised a DUP Commons motion about marking centenaries because it made no reference to Irish nationalism.

Margaret Ritchie told MPs that the motion which highlighted the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic and the signing of the Ulster Covenant "underpins a unionist agenda".

She said: "There must be parity of esteem, there must be respect for both traditions on the island. We are talking about the north of Ireland and we should be taking into account the attributes of everybody."

She was speaking during a debate called by the DUP which aimed to promote Northern Ireland as a tourist destination and highlighted the '2012 Our Time, Our Place' campaign - a programme of events and activities taking place in Northern Ireland in 2012.

The motion noted that the campaign for more tourists came during the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic and the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said he found Margaret Ritchie's remarks a "little jarring".

He said there was a maturity about the debate surrounding centenaries that "you would not have seen 10 years ago".

He said commemorations were being designed to create "maximum consensus ".

During the debate, DUP MP Willie McCrea said Northern Ireland's image had been shaped in the past by "negative headlines".

He said much had changed in recent years and that people in Northern Ireland had a new-found confidence.

The South Antrim MP said: "People are starting to feel good to be from our wee country."

The veteran DUP man used his speech to also highlight the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen.

Aware of recent criticism from the prime minister that Ulster MPs do not seem happy enough, Willie McCrea was keen to raise a few laughs during his speech.

He told the Commons chamber how as a young boy he took part in a fancy dress contest to mark the Coronation.

To some laughter he told fellow parliamentarians how he "dressed up as a little sailor".

To more chuckles from the back benches he admitted that he was not successful and his sister had won first prize.

'Revelation'

Northern Ireland Office minister Hugo Swire praised the quality of the debate which he said had been a good one.

He said Willie McCrea's childhood fancy dress story was an "amazing revelation".

He also referred to suggestions that Northern Ireland MPs gave the appearance that they were not happy.

Looking across the chamber to the SDLP and DUP members, he said "their happiness is a given fact".

In his speech, the Foyle SDLP MP Mark Durkan picked up the theme of appearing to be happy.

He said he was worried that local MPs would now feel obliged to go around the Palace of Westminster looking permanently upbeat like "Aer Lingus cabin crew".

Whilst he said the SDLP had concerns with some parts of the wording of the DUP's motion, he had no hesitation in backing the drive for more tourists for Northern Ireland.

Secretary of State Owen Paterson said he welcomed the DUP motion.

"Northern Ireland is viewed across the world as a place of hope," he said.

His comments were endorsed by the shadow Secretary of State Vernon Coaker.

The Labour MP said much progress had been made in recent years and it was "time to put Northern Ireland firmly on the world map".