In Pictures: Protests, protocol and princes mark Northern Ireland centenary year

·2-min read
The sun sets over the Edward Carson statue at Stormont as the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiations continued (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Wire)
The sun sets over the Edward Carson statue at Stormont as the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiations continued (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Wire)

Marking its 100th anniversary, Northern Ireland entered 2021 during a lockdown aimed at tackling the second wave of coronavirus.

As the year played out, the political divisions remained stark both internally and externally. A new first minister was elected as the DUP worked through three leaders in just three weeks.

Meanwhile, tensions with the Westminster government over the Northern Ireland Protocol and proposals for an amnesty for military veterans and ex-paramilitaries involved in Troubles incidents continued to boil over.

P3 children sanitising their hands after playing outside of Springfield Primary School in Belfast on the first day back for pre-school, nursery and primary school pupils in P1-P3 in March (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)
P3 children sanitising their hands after playing outside of Springfield Primary School in Belfast on the first day back for pre-school, nursery and primary school pupils in P1-P3 in March (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)
Holly Wilson, whose grandmother Ada Wilson died during the pandemic, stands in Belfast Cathedral before a remembrance service in partnership with Marie Curie for their National Day of Reflection (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)
Holly Wilson, whose grandmother Ada Wilson died during the pandemic, stands in Belfast Cathedral before a remembrance service in partnership with Marie Curie for their National Day of Reflection (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)
Covid-19 vaccinators celebrate outside the SSE Arena, Belfast at the end of The Big Jab Weekend in August (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Wire)
Covid-19 vaccinators celebrate outside the SSE Arena, Belfast at the end of The Big Jab Weekend in August (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Wire)
Anabela Monteiro at The Belmont Bar and Bistro in Belfast scans a customer’s digital Health & Social Care Northern Ireland Covid certificate in December (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
Anabela Monteiro at The Belmont Bar and Bistro in Belfast scans a customer’s digital Health & Social Care Northern Ireland Covid certificate in December (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

Church leaders came together to deliver a message of reconciliation at a cross-community service to mark the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland in October.

The Queen had been set to attend but was unable to travel after she fell ill.

Billy Wilson of City of Armagh High School carries a lantern, symbolising the light of hope, during the service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
Billy Wilson of City of Armagh High School carries a lantern, symbolising the light of hope, during the service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

In politics, Arlene Foster stepped down as DUP leader in April after party criticism on her handling of several key issues including the Brexit protocol, the emergence of a border in the Irish sea and her decision to abstain, rather than vote against, a ban on gay conversion therapy.

But what followed highlighted more divisions within the party after Edwin Poots narrowly won the leadership in a secret ballot in May, only to resign 21 days later after his efforts to press ahead with reconstituting Stormont’s powersharing Executive alongside Sinn Fein met significant resistance from fellow DUP members, among other issues.

Paul Givan, who Mr Poots had been named as First Minister, continued in that role even after MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was ratified as the new leader.

Screengrab taken from the Northern Ireland Assembly of Arlene Foster formally announcing her resignation as First Minister (PA) (PA Archive)
Screengrab taken from the Northern Ireland Assembly of Arlene Foster formally announcing her resignation as First Minister (PA) (PA Archive)
Edwin Poots (left) with newly elected DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during a Battle of the Somme commemoration at Stormont in July (Peter Morrison/PA) (PA Wire)
Edwin Poots (left) with newly elected DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during a Battle of the Somme commemoration at Stormont in July (Peter Morrison/PA) (PA Wire)

Tensions remained with the Westminster government over the Northern Ireland Protocol and the question of whether a hard border either in the Irish Sea or between north and south was the best way to resolve the Brexit impasse with the EU.

Protesters from Border Communities Against Brexit set up a mock customs post during a demonstration in November at Flurrybridge in Carrickcarnon calling on the Government not to trigger Article 16 (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)
Protesters from Border Communities Against Brexit set up a mock customs post during a demonstration in November at Flurrybridge in Carrickcarnon calling on the Government not to trigger Article 16 (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)
Hundreds join a loyalist rally against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Newtownards Road, Belfast in September (Peter Morrison/PA) (PA Wire)
Hundreds join a loyalist rally against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Newtownards Road, Belfast in September (Peter Morrison/PA) (PA Wire)

The differing opinions on potential solutions stirred up further the community divisions, with rioting and damage linked to the political disagreements.

The scene on Abbott Drive in Newtownards near Belfast, after a bus was hijacked and set alight in an attack politicians have linked to loyalist opposition to Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol (David Young/PA) (PA Wire)
The scene on Abbott Drive in Newtownards near Belfast, after a bus was hijacked and set alight in an attack politicians have linked to loyalist opposition to Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol (David Young/PA) (PA Wire)
A protestor on Lanark Way in the Loyalist Shankill Road area close to the peace wall during a protest against the protocol in November (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)
A protestor on Lanark Way in the Loyalist Shankill Road area close to the peace wall during a protest against the protocol in November (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

In July, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis announced plans for a statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998, and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.

The proposals were met with widespread opposition on all sides, including from the families who marked the 50th anniversary of the Ballymurphy massacre in August. An inquest in May had ruled the 11 victims had been killed by the British Army and that they were all innocent.

Family members of Ballymurphy massacre victims watch Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis in the House of Commons in July announcing the Government’s plans to introduce legislation to end all prosecutions related to the Northern Ireland Troubles before 1998 (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)
Family members of Ballymurphy massacre victims watch Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis in the House of Commons in July announcing the Government’s plans to introduce legislation to end all prosecutions related to the Northern Ireland Troubles before 1998 (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)
People take part in a staged funeral procession through the grounds of the Stormont estate to protest against plans unveiled by Brandon Lewis to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past (Jonathan McCambridge/PA) (PA Wire)
People take part in a staged funeral procession through the grounds of the Stormont estate to protest against plans unveiled by Brandon Lewis to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past (Jonathan McCambridge/PA) (PA Wire)

Although the Queen was too ill to attend the centenary events – and Irish President Michael D Higgins pointedly turned down the invitation because he believed it was not politically neutral – the Prince of Wales and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge all enjoyed Northern Irish hospitality in 2021.

The Prince of Wales met Nicola Morton and her four-month-old daughter Evie (left) and Cathryn Grant and her seven-month-old daughter Sophia, during his visit to Caledon village in May (Brain Lawless/PA) (PA Archive)
The Prince of Wales met Nicola Morton and her four-month-old daughter Evie (left) and Cathryn Grant and her seven-month-old daughter Sophia, during his visit to Caledon village in May (Brain Lawless/PA) (PA Archive)
In September, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the City of Derry rugby club where they participated in a sports initiative bringing football, rugby and GAA playing children, together (Tim Rooke/PA) (PA Wire)
In September, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the City of Derry rugby club where they participated in a sports initiative bringing football, rugby and GAA playing children, together (Tim Rooke/PA) (PA Wire)
The princes were not the only dignitaries to visit Northern Ireland this year – Prime Minister Boris Johnson found time during the centenary events to join schoolchildren as they planted seeds during a visit to Crumlin Intergrated primary school in County Antrim in October (Paul Faith/PA) (PA Wire)
The princes were not the only dignitaries to visit Northern Ireland this year – Prime Minister Boris Johnson found time during the centenary events to join schoolchildren as they planted seeds during a visit to Crumlin Intergrated primary school in County Antrim in October (Paul Faith/PA) (PA Wire)
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