Maze peace centre: board seeks urgent clarification

Planning approval for the 347-acre site was granted in April 2013 Planning approval for the 347-acre site was granted in April 2013

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The board overseeing the redevelopment of the former Maze prison site is seeking 'urgent' clarification about the future of a planned peace centre.

The centre was to be built as part of a £300m redevelopment of the site, but on Wednesday, the first minister said it should not proceed without consensus.

Peter Robinson made his remarks in a letter sent to all DUP MPs and MLAs.

The DUP leader's actions were raised at Friday's board meeting of the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation.

Afterwards, the corporation's chairman Terence Brannigan issued a short statement, his first response since Wednesday's unexpected development.

Paramilitary prisoners

The statement said: "During today's scheduled meeting, board members discussed, amongst other matters, issues relating to the peace building and conflict resolution centre.

"The board agreed to ask the first minister and deputy first minister to urgently clarify the situation."

Last April Mr Brannigan had said the £18m centre would be "a showcase to attract international developers and investors".

There have been years of controversy over the scheme to redevelop the former prison site, which housed paramilitary prisoners from 1971 to 2000.

Terence brannigan Terence Brannigan has asked for clarification on the Maze

After plans to build a peace centre on the site were confirmed last year, some unionist politicians and IRA victims' families expressed fears it could be turned into a "shrine" to terrorism.

Mr Robinson has previously rejected that claim, while the deputy first minister, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, said the centre would be a "shrine to peace".

Demolished

The high-profile architect Daniel Libeskind, renowned for his work on New York's Ground Zero memorial, was chosen to design the conflict resolution centre and planning permission was granted in April this year.

However, the DUP faced public criticism from, among others, the Orange Order, the RUC George Cross Widows Association and several unionist rivals.

In 1981, 10 inmates died on hunger strike in the Maze as part of a campaign by republicans to secure political prisoner status.

Most of the prison has since been demolished, but a watchtower, an H-Block cell and prison hospital where Bobby Sands starved to death have been preserved as listed buildings.

On Friday, the chairman of the Prison Officers' Association (POA), Finlay Spratt, said all the remaining buildings should be razed to the ground.

"From the day the Maze closed in 2000, the Prison Officers' Association's view was that it should be bulldozed, the whole site, and turned over to public use," he said.

Money forfeited

Meanwhile, the TUV leader Jim Allister is seeking clarification on the centre's European peace funding.

As it stands, failure to complete the Daniel Libeskind-designed project by June 2015 will see the money forfeited.

A process to appoint a builder for the peace centre was due to get under way soon, so that construction work could begin at the start of next year, but Mr Robinson's move has now cast doubt on the timetable.

Mr Allister - who opposed the centre - has written to the funding body.

He said he wanted to know if the money will be reallocated to other projects.

The corporation was established last year, after the first and deputy first ministers said they had reached agreement on a number of policy areas, including a way forward for the 360-acre site.

In his letter to his DUP colleagues on Wednesday, Mr Robinson said there must be a change of attitude by Sinn Féin, especially towards victims of the IRA.

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