Maze plans scrapped?
A FURIOUS row has broken out over the future
of a National Sports Stadium at the Maze after claims that a
decision to scrap the proposal has already been made.
The UUP, Sinn Fein, Alliance and SDLP have
called on DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who is now a Junior
Minister, to give his unqualified support to the scheme after
claims his party wanted to ditch the Maze in favour of a
football/rugby stadium in East Belfast.
However, Mr Donaldson has dismissed the
claims, insisting no decison has been taken and repeated the DUP
in Lagan Valley wants to see a new sports stadium for Northern
Ireland on the Maze site.
The row erupted last weekend after UUP MLA
Basil McCrea said leaked information from sources had informed
him that a decision to scrap the Maze proposal had been taken by
the DUP when senior members went to Lisbon last month.
"Highly reliable sources tell me that the
decision to dump the Maze stadium was taken at a DUP meeting in
Lisbon," he said.
"The DUP leadership, faced with mounting
criticism from the grass roots, agreed on a number of desperate
measures including the dumping of the Maze stadium." Reports
suggested alternatives to the Maze could include either the
re-development of Windsor Park or a new stadium at the
Blanchflower Stadium in East Belfast.
Mr McCrea continued: "The DUP need something
to exorcise the ghost of Ian Paisley before the next elections
and the decision to dump the Maze will give Peter Robinson the
opportunity to do so. No doubt Nigel Dodds, when he becomes
Finance Minister, will attempt to say that the result was taken
as a result of financial analysis but this is not the case. The
decision has already been taken for cynical party political
"This is not a good decision for the people of Northern
Ireland. The Maze project was much more than just a National
stadium. It was a symbol of hope, of vision and of future
prosperity. It was intended to be a visible statement that the
troubles were over, that we could put the past behind us, that
we could unite the different cultures in our land and it would
have provided a huge economic boost not just for Lisburn but for
the whole of Northern Ireland -All that is lost because the DUP
And Mr McCrea called on Mr Donaldson to
resign claiming the issue "raised fundamental questions"
regarding the political futures of both Mr. Donaldson and his
party colleague, Sports Minister Edwin Poots.
Mr Donaldson, however, dismissed the claims.
"I can confirm categorically that no decision
has been taken about the Maze project by the DUP at any level,"
"The DUP in Lagan Valley wants to see a new
sports stadium for Northern Ireland and, of course, we want that
to be on the Maze site. However, the business case is currently
with the Finance Department before a full decision can be made
and that will have to stack up in economic and financial terms,
which will obviously be the crucial factor determining whether
the stadium will go ahead.
"I would have thought rather than seeking to
divide the Lisburn team, Basil McCrea would have been working
with us," he continued.
He said Mr McCrea's comments were "highly
regrettable" and there "is no substance whatsoever in these
He concluded: "At a time when we need to be
together he has sadly chosen to seek confrontation with his MLA
colleagues in the constituency. We must all now await the
decision from the Finance Minister and the decisions taken by
the Executive; it is our task to influence that decision."
His party colleague, Sports Minister Edwin
Poots, also denied the project has been abandoned. He said: "No
decision has been taken and no decision will be taken until the
work the Department of Finance and Personnel are doing is
He added that this would take another month,
and then a political decision would be made.
Mr Poots said the project had been discussed
by senior members of the party, but no firm decision had been
Alderman Paul Porter also responded on behalf
of the DUP Group on Lisburn Council, pointing out they have been
working 'very proactively in support of the National Stadium at
"That remains our position as of January this
year, where at the council meeting it was proposed by Ivan Davis
and seconded by myself that we support the stadium," said Mr
"The irony of it is that Councillor McCrea
didn't bother to turn up to this very important meeting, where
thankfully we had cross-party support for the Maze project.
"Ourselves and the UUP have worked well
together over the years to push this project forward and that is
what is so annoying and so disgraceful in relation to the
political comments from Councillor McCrea. Despite that we will
continue to work with those councillors who want to put forward
an agenda on getting the Maze stadium off the ground." SDLP
South Antrim MLA Thomas Burns said it would be a disaster if the
Maze stadium project were to fall victim to 'petty political
Mr Burns commented: "We all need to take a
cold, hard look at the Maze project, what it offers and what it
will cost us all if it is put in danger. We need to consider up
to 10,000 jobs and where else we might get such a large
It is very important for our future that we
rise above knee-jerk reactions and sit down for a sensible
discussion on the proposed conflict transformation centre."
Lisburn UUP Councillor David Archer pointed
the finget of blame for the problem at the 'Belfast mafia.
"Much like the John Lewis saga, the Belfast
political mafia are yet again seeking to mothball a major
project that would bring millions of pounds of investment and
thousands of jobs to the city of Lisburn" he said.
"A project of such magnitude should not be
put in jeopardy due to internal tensions within any political
party and it is regrettable that most of the key decision makers
in this process are elected representatives in Belfast.
"It is disappointing that it appears that
there are people who are publicly supporting this venture but
privately lacklustre in their efforts to secure the future of
Sinn Fein MLA for Lagan Valley Paul Butler called on Mr
Donaldson to give unequivocal support to the Maze.
Mr. Butler said: "Jeffrey Donaldson is MP and MLA for the
area identified in numerous reports as the preferred location.
He needs to make it clear if he supports the stadium being built
on the site of the former prison. "The DUP cannot dictate where
the stadium will be located and Sinn Fein's Ministers on the
Executive will ensure they do not dictate the location."
Lagan Valley Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn also threw down the
gauntlet to the DUP saying Northern
Ireland might never get a new stadium if the DUP runs scared
from the Maze.
Mr Lunn said: "If this project does not proceed, it will be
the biggest example of looking a gift horse in the mouth in the
history of Northern Ireland. It will send a message round the
world that we prefer to be seen as a sporting and cultural
"I say to the DUP, 'you have come a long way, don't trip over
this hurdle'. You are sitting in Government with Sinn Fein, test
their bona-fides again. Nobody needs to win or lose on this one.
It's a penalty kick and it's too good to miss."
Chamber of Commerce
`concerned' by Maze reports
THE recent reports on the future of the National Stadium at
the Maze have caused 'great concern' for Lisburn Chamber of
At a recent meeting members expressed concern on comments in
the media that the Maze may lose its bid for the national
In a statement, the Chamber said: "We as a Chamber continue
to see it as a good investment into the Lisburn area with the
added value of opening up sizeable tracts of lands for
further development. Also we see it as a catalyst for investment
into the City Centre as we want to ensure we can present a
retail experience coupled with commercial and leisure aspects
(shops restaurants etc). We have no doubts our MP/MLAs and
Councillors are strongly lobbying the case for Lisburn and we
fully support them in all their efforts."
Business case for Conflict
Centre is being 'deliberately reduced'
DEPUTY Mayor Ronnie Crawford has claimed the
Northern Ireland Tourist Board has damaged the business case for
the International Centre for Conflict Transformation (ICCT) at
Councillor Crawford was speaking after Alan
Clarke, the Chief Executive of the NITB, informed him that at a
meeting with consultants appointed by the Office of the First
Minister and Deputy First Minister to produce the Business Plan
for the ICCT in September 2007, tourist board officials'
assumptions on visitor numbers were "adjusted down and the
entrance fee reduced in line with Tourist Board advice."
But a furious Mr Crawford said by reducing
projections for the number of tickets sold and the cost of the
tickets the NITB were making the business case look worse.
"In Lisburn council we are in the dark about
what figures they are working with. I proposed at the recent
council meeting that we get the full details of the business
case. The problem with tourism is that the Minister Nigel Dodds
has already voiced his opposition to the project.
"What advice did the Tourist Board give on the Crumlin Road
gaol before it became a tourist attraction? If the proposal is
turned down we must, as a council, see that the process behind
the decision was open and fair. If not then we must go for a
judicial review. Belfast City Council and traders did the same
on the John Lewis proposal that has resulted in a considerable
delay. It has also resulted in the new Victoria Square Centre
getting up and running with its flagship store House of Fraser,
when John Lewis haven't even laid a brick yet."