OUTGOING Culture Arts and Leisure minister
Edwin Poots has said he has not given up hope the Maze will
still be home to a new national sports stadium.
Mr Poots, speaking for the first time since
being replaced in the Executive, said he did not believe he had
lost his job because of his support for the stadium. Rather, he
said he believed when all the options were weighed up by the new
minister Gregory Campbell, he believed his successor could reach
the same conclusion as he did - no other plan stacked up.
Mr Poots, clearly relaxed and speaking
openly, dismissed speculation he had been ousted because he was
too vocal in his support for the Maze stadium or that he had
been too close to the outgoing DUP leader, Dr Ian Paisley.
"I got into the seat of government after just
ten years in public office at the age of 41," said Mr Poots. "In
our party there are people with more experience who haven't had
that opportunity and I fully accept the new leader wants to give
other people a chance."
But he also accepted his firm stance on the
Maze may not have done him any favours.
Last week he said he believed some civil
servants were opposed to the scheme, and he wasn't withdrawing
"I wasn't talking about people in DCAL" he
said. "I had the Department of Finance and Personnel in mind.
Very often they are too cautious. The North West gas pipeline
was opposed by the DFP in the last Executive, but the two
ministers, Reg Empey and Mark Durkan, overruled them and they
were right. Civil servants wanted the Odyssey to have 4,500
seats instead of 8,000. We know now that would not have worked
so sometimes politicians have to take the big decisions, that's
"The Maze wasn't something I was prepared to
concede on, it was a principle issue.
"I wasn't prepared to back off and I still
haven't given up on something significant at the Maze.
"I also don't have an issue being identified
as someone close to Ian Paisley," said Mr Poots. "He is someone
I have had huge respect for over a long period. We wouldn't have
been able to achieve the settlement without him. He is an iconic
figure who will go down in history and I would be privileged to
be regarded as his supporter or friend.
"I personally don't believe I suffered as a
consequence of anything other than wanting to share
opportunities around. However, if I don't get back in due course
I suppose one could come to that conclusion."
However, Mr Poots acknowledged that
government in Northern Ireland is 'Belfast centric', an
historical legacy he said with all but two government
departments based in the city and greater development there than
elsewhere in the Province.
"I am not against Belfast being developed,"
he continued. "It is our capital city and I am delighted to see
the progress there and as Minister I had an input into that, but
I don't see the level of reciprocation across the rest of
Northern Ireland from people who think everything should be
sited in Belfast."
Reflecting on his time in office, Mr Poots
said he had a number of highlights and, while he might have done
some things differently, no regrets.
"I enjoyed meeting Meryl Streep and Liam
Neeson, who were over to support the arts here and I also had
the opportunity to introduce the Queen to 300 sports-people from
Northern Ireland which was a wonderful occasion.
prepared to back off and I still haven't given up on
something significant at the Maze.'
"I was also delighted to have the opportunity
to move projects forward, including the investment in the Public
Records Office and the Lyric Theatre."
Mr Poots will also be remembered as being the
first DUP minister to attend a GAA match.
"Going to a GAA match was perceived as a huge
step and I knew it would be high profile," he recalled. "The GAA
is an organisation I wouldn't have had any association with and
I have been critical of its quasi-political nature. I believe
there is still some way to go but I have to accept it has made
changes and people who say there haven't been changes are wrong.
"But I didn't go down there as an apologetic
unionist. I laid down a clear challenge to the GAA by saying
'here's a unionist saying your culture is acceptable to
unionists, shouldn't unionist and orange culture be acceptable
to the wider nationalist community?' There had been a lot of
attacks on Orange halls before I went and just one afterwards, I
think that's significant."
Looking to the future, Mr Poots said he was
looking forward to spending more time with his family and
"getting back to his roots" by focusing on issues of importance
to the people of Lisburn and Lagan Valley.
"Being an MLA is a seriously busy job and it
s the work I enjoy. I look forward to vigorously and
aggressively representing the Lagan Valley constituency.
"That was one thing I didn't like about being
a minister. I wasn't able to fully focus on my constituency and
I didn't forget the only reason I am holding poltical office is
because the people of Lagan Valley vote for me.
"This week I was chairing the AGM of Lisburn
City Centre Management, and was re-elected as Chairman. There is
an awful lot to be done.
"I think in terms of development in the city
centre has been somewhat dead and there are a lot of
opportunities that need to be taken forward.
As for the chance to the Mayor, Mr Poots was
ruling nothing out.
"Being Lisburn's First Citizen is something I
felt my father, who represented Lisburn as a councillor for many
years, should have done many years ago and I would like to hold
the position while he could see me. But I am very aware I can
only do that with the support of the rest of the council.
"My first love in terms of politics is
Lisburn," he concluded. "It is a great place that has been
undervalued and has the opportunity to be so much better."
If we fail you'll be right
to blame us
MLA Edwin Poots has admitted that the people of
Lagan Valley will be able to criticise himself and his five
assembly Colleagues, the local MP and the devolved
administration if they cannot win at least some of the key
issues the area is facing.
Mr Poots identified the retention of services at
the Lagan Valley Hospital, plans for the Maze Stadium and the
proposed John Lewis development at Sprucefield as vital for the
future of the constituency.
And he accepted the voters will have every
right not to vote for the sitting assembly members at the next
election if they cannot win at least some of those battles.
"We have the Sprucefield situation, the Maze
situation and the Lagan Valley Hospital," explained Mr Poots.
"If the answer to all of those is negative it would be a damning
indictment of our devolved administration, of which my party has
a large role to play." However, Mr Poots said he is aiming to
achieve positive outcomes on at least two out of the three
issues, and hoped for positive results on all three.
"My commitment would be delivering for Lagan
Valley. Will I get all that I want? Possibly not, but if we were
to lose out on all of those it wouldn't say much for the
political representation in Lagan Valley as a whole - MLAs, MP
and councillors" he said. "We have to go back to the people in
three years time. If Lisburn is kicked in the teeth on all these
issues people would have the right to say there is something
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Deputy Mayor praises MLA
LISBURN'S Deputy Mayor, UUP Councillor Ronnie
Crawford said he was disappointed Alderman Edwin Poots had been
replaced as Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister.
"Northern Ireland is now being run by a team of
part-time MLAs and it is disturbing to see Sammy Wilson being
taken from the education brief at such a crucial time for our
children" he said. "I hope this does not herald a surrender on
the issue of academic selection.
"Edwin Poots did a very good job at DCAL and he deserves to
be congratulated for putting the interests of his constituents
before the clamour for the retention of political office."