by JULIEANN SPENCE
Plans due this month for the Maze site
LAGAN Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson has revealed that a formal announcement about the relocation of the Balmoral Show to the site of the former Maze Prison, as well as details about the new peace centre, conference facilities and exhibition space, will be made later this month.
Mr Donaldson said he understood the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister would confirm details of the first phase of development in the coming weeks.
I am informed that the formal announcement will be made by OFMDFM later this month," explained Mr Donaldson. "This will help to get the redevelopment of the Maze site firmly underway with the creation of hundreds of construction jobs and long term employment opportunities for local people.
"This is only the beginning and there is much scope to develop the rest of this site with the prospect of thousands of new jobs being created that will help to boost our local economy. It is vital that all local politicians and community representatives work together to realise the full potential of the Maze site."
The news comes after it was announced that £18 million of European money had been secured to build the controversial conflict resolution centre at the site. First Minister Peter Robinson also confirmed that a new Chairman for the Maze group would be sought in the near future.
"It is an extremely important development," said Mr Robinson. "It is close to the city of Belfast but it is within the city of Lisburn. It has massive potential to bring jobs on a long-term basis to the region and it has the size and status to be a regional centre so it is important to the whole of the province."
The conflict resolution centre is the most controversial part of the development, but Mr Donaldson rejected claims it will become a shrine to terrorism.
"The proposed Peace-building Centre on the Maze site will be located in a new, purpose built facility and will be both an International Centre as well as providing facilities for local communities dealing with the ongoing problems that result from the divisions in our own society," he said. "It will promote dialogue and reconciliation as the only basis for resolving issues of conflict and will share the Northern Ireland experience of peace-building with people from many nations across the world.
Hopefully, it will encourage everyone to ensure that we never again allow our community to descend into violence and conflict."
He continued: "Some have suggested that the peace centre will become a
shrine to terrorism
because of the presence of the retained prison buildings on the Maze site. I reject that assertion, indeed the opposite will be the case. This facility will be new and the £18 million is being invested in a purpose built centre that will offer modem facilities for studying peace. Contrary to the misleading statements made by some politicians, the centre will not be located in an H Block or any other former prison building. Indeed the new centre will be outside the former prison wall."
Mr Donaldson insisted that he continues to oppose the retention of former prison buildings at the site. "I understand that no final decision has been made about the retained buildings that were listed by the former direct rule Ministers but I have made my position on these buildings very clear. I opposed their retention in the first place and lodged a formal objection to the listing of the buildings.
"Together with my colleagues in the Assembly, we will seek to ensure
that the buildings are not used in any way that would glorify violence
or become a shrine to terrorism.
"As a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment and someone who has lost family and comrades murdered by the IRA, I have no interest whatsoever in any shrine that would glorify violence. This Centre will do the opposite. It will teach about the immorality and futility of violence as a means of resolving division and will promote peace for this and future generations," he concluded.
Mixed reaction to announcement over funding for conflict resolution centre
LOCAL politicians have given a mixed reaction to news that £18 million of European funding has been secured for a peace building centre at the Maze.
Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn, who served on the Maze Consultative Panel, said it was 'excellent news for the people of Lagan Valley and for the whole of Northern Ireland'.
"The Maze site can be a key driver of our economy and has the potential
to create many jobs at this extremely challenging time" he said. "I
served on the Maze Consultative Panel and discussions at that time were
extremely constructive. We looked at models from all around the world,
including former prisons, and there was general agreement about the way
forward. I am totally satisfied that there is absolutely no prospect
that this centre will be dominated by any one party or persuasion.
"There must be no more political game playing on the issue because this type of negative behaviour could jeopardise the creation of much-needed jobs at the site. It is imperative that we continue this good work by moving ahead with developing the Maze site. We must maintain momentum, and to stall or fail to deliver on this would be a massive missed opportunity."
But Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea said it was "a mistake" for the centre to be built without public consultation. "Money for this project has been committed, and this will now happen," said Mr McCrea. "However, there will be no public consultation. Perhaps this is why it is being funded from EU money, rather than from the Stormont Executive. In any case, this is a mistake.
"The centre raises huge concerns and passions which cut to the core of the challenges we face in our society. We cannot duck these issues."
"It is important that everyone's views are represented," he continued. "It is particularly important that an accurate portrayal of life through the Troubles is protected. The innocent people who have lost their lives, their relatives, and members of the security forces, especially the prison service, must have their stories told."