Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


Row Erupts over Claims Proposals Dumped for Belfast Stadium

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 advantage.

"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 feel unloved."

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," he said.

"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 allegations."

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 undertaken."

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 taken.

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 the Maze.

"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 Porter.

"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 squabbling'.

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 employment project.

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 Maze."

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 backwater.

"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 Commerce.

At a recent meeting members expressed concern on comments in the media that the Maze may lose its bid for the national stadium.

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 the Maze.

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."

Ulster Star