Northern Ireland

Maze peace centre: Martin McGuinness says failure to agree 'beggars belief'

Martin McGuinness delivering peace lecture in Warrington
Image caption Martin McGuinness made his remarks on the Maze centre while delivering a peace lecture in Warrington

It "beggars belief" that politicians cannot agree on the building of a peace centre in Northern Ireland, the deputy first minister has said.

Martin McGuinness criticised the Democratic Unionist Party for withdrawing its support for a centre on the site of the former Maze prison.

He made his remarks while delivering a lecture in Warrington, marking the 20th anniversary of the 1993 IRA bomb.

The first minister said the centre should not proceed without consensus

The project was part of a wider £300m investment that was to redevelop a 347-acre site near Lisburn, creating up to 5,000 jobs.

'Reneged'

However, the location of the peace centre was opposed by many leading unionists, who feared it would become a "shrine to terror" due to its association with the 1981 IRA hunger strike.

Mr McGuinness told the Warrington audience: "Sinn Féin is, of course, disappointed that our partners in government in the north of Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party, have reneged on a programme for government commitment to build our new peace-building and conflict resolution centre on the site of the former Maze-Long Kesh prison.

"For many, given the journey we've all trodden and the changes that have come about, and our work abroad as advocates of peace-building, it beggars belief that we cannot agree on the building of a peace centre."

The deputy first minister was speaking at the Tim Parry Johnathan Bell Peace Centre, set up in memory of the two young boys who were murdered when two IRA bombs, placed in litter bins, exploded in a shopping district.

He was invited to deliver a lecture by Tim Parry's father, Colin, who became a peace campaigner following the death of his 12-year-old son.

Some IRA victims picketed the event, protesting at the invitation given Mr McGuinness's past links to the IRA.

'Glorify terrorism'

The deputy first minister said the peace centre in Warrington had "led the way" in showing how important a peace-building centre is to communities "moving out of conflict".

His remarks on the Maze centre represented his strongest criticism to date of the DUP's decision to withdraw support for the peace project.

Last month, Mr Robinson said an IRA commemoration at Castlederg, County Tyrone, on 11 August had convinced him to stall the peace centre plan.

The Sinn Féin-supported event commemorated republicans who died during the Troubles, including two IRA men who were killed when their own bomb exploded prematurely.

Days after the Castlederg parade, Mr Robinson set out his party's position in a 12-page letter to all DUP assembly members and MPs.

He said it was a "coat-trailing" exercise to "glorify terrorism" and added there must be a change of attitude by Sinn Féin, especially towards victims of the IRA.

The first minister told DUP representatives that it would be wrong to proceed with the centre in the absence of a consensus about how it would operate.

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