Maze row: Martin McGuinness blocks charity aviation show

Members of the Ulster Aviation Society in their hangar at the Maze
Members of the Ulster Aviation Society in their hangar at the Maze

An educational aviation show run by a charity has been abandoned after Martin McGuinness vetoed the event – but wouldn’t even tell the charity that he had done so.

The Ulster Aviation Society (UAS), which has long been based at the Maze site, last year held an open day at the former prison where the public could view rare aircraft and learn about flight.

More than 5,000 people attended the event and the charity hoped thousands more would attend this year.

Sinn Fein linked its decision not to allow the event to use the Maze site to the DUP’s refusal to allow a peace centre to be constructed there.

UAS chairman Ray Burrows said the organisation was “devastated” at what had happened.

He said: “Planning for this year’s event started in October 2013 and, it would be true to say, it was shaping up to be our biggest and best yet. We held off taking this decision as long as possible, but there obviously comes a time when it is impossible to continue; sadly, we have reached that point in time.”

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson accused Sinn Fein of needlessly embroiling a charity in a political row, saying that Peter Robinson had approved the event but Mr McGuinness blocked it.

He said: ‘This year’s open days are not a new development but simply a repeat of an existing event which should proceed without any hindrance.”

He added: “Unfortunately the UAS are being victimised as Sinn Fein block their open day in an apparent attempt to use it as leverage for their narrow political agenda.”

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said that Mr McGuinness’s actions were “petty and vindictive”. Mr Nesbitt, who chairs the Stormont committee which scrutinises the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, said: “I know that the UAS applied to OFMDFM for permission to hold this event as far back as last autumn, but that Sinn Fein has refused to grant permission because it is not getting its way with regard to the establishment of a terrorist shrine at the Maze.

“These two issues are clearly totally unrelated.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said that the situation demonstrated the unworkability of the Stormont system and added: “How long do we have to be subjected to the shambles that passes for government at Stormont?”

Sinn Féin MLA Caitríona Ruane made clear that the Ulster Aviation Society (UAS) open day will only go ahead “if the DUP agree to reopen access to the historic prison building”.

The former education minister said that Sinn Fein had vetoed the event because the DUP had pulled out of its deal with her party about developing a peace centre at the Maze site.

She said: “At the behest of negative voices within the DUP, Peter Robinson then reneged on this agreement, unilaterally stopping all progress and preventing access to the prison building for thousands of tourists and other visitors.”

She said the DUP could not “cherry pick” the deal it struck about the Maze: “Sinn Féin is willing today to agree that the UAS open day can proceed as requested if access to the prison buildings is reinstated. We can then come back to discuss the wider issues around the full development of the site.”