War of words over Maze plans

A WAR of words erupted in the Assembly this week when the issue of the redevelopment of the Maze prison site was raised in the chamber.

Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott brought forward a motion calling on the Assembly to recognise the “potential social and economic benefits” of the site, as well as expressing concern about proposals for a conflict resolution centre.

Putting forward the motion, Mr Elliott said: “The issue of the Maze site is clearly of significant relevance and strategic importance to Northern Ireland. I want to see development at the Maze that will enhance Northern Ireland strategically and be of huge importance to the entire community.”

Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan questioned the Ulster Unionist stance on the issue and insisted there would not be a shrine to terrorism at the Maze. “Let us remind ourselves of what the Maze/Long Kesh site is capable of delivering,” said Mr Givan. “It is a 350-acre strategic development opportunity that is twice the size of the Titanic Quarter. It is located directly beside the Blaris site, which is 400 acres and which has been given approval, in principle, in the Department of the Environment’s master plan for the area. I feel that the Maze site and the Blaris site could create a massive opportunity for job creation in Northern Ireland.

“Let us be clear: there will be no shrine at the Maze. There never will be. The site was never envisaged as a shrine. As long as my party holds the position of First Minister, we will ensure that there will never be a shrine at the Maze.”

Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots also spoke on the issue and was vehement about the Ulster Unionist Party’s divided stance on the matter.

A heated debate took place in the chamber, with strong words being exchanged between TUV leader Jim Allister and First Minister Peter Robinson.

Speaking after the debate Lagan Valley MLA Trevor Lunn said: “This issue has been stuck in limbo for years and people are fed up with the lack of progress. So far all we have done is demolish some old buildings, put in a nice new entrance and abandon an excellent stadium proposal.

“The Conflict Resolution Centre has been cited as a reason for lack of progress, but I cannot see why we would not want to tell the story of what happened at the Maze site as well as more widely across Northern Ireland over the past forty years.

“What is it about this centre that frightens Unionists? Our history and the path to peace in Northern Ireland is a matter of world interest, and the history of the Maze is integral to it. The irrational fear that this would become some kind of a shrine or place of pilgrimage has no foundation. The history to be told covers all sections of society, there is no way a properly planned centre would be allowed to evolve in that way.

“At the moment, we have an empty site of over 300 acres. While there does need to be preparatory work on the site which has caused delay due to some decontamination issues, the real progress on the site has been painfully slow. I hope that the motion can show that the political parties all want to see movement on this issue and will act as an impetus to the First and deputy First Minister to get this work underway.”