First Minister Peter Robinson’s open letter to UUP leader Mike Nesbitt over the Maze peace centre

First Minister Peter Robinson
First Minister Peter Robinson

Stormont, Belfast

2nd July 2013.

Dear Mike

Your open letter claims to seek to ‘generate more light and less heat’ on the issue of the development of the Maze Long Kesh site.

It is therefore disappointing that you seek to rewrite history and obscure the UUP’s past involvement in the decision it took to place the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze and to exploit the issue for party political advantage.

You ask, “why does this centre need to be built at the Maze?” Of course, you know the answer because in 2005 the UUP-led panel proposed that the centre be sited at the Maze and that elements of the prison be retained and the Peace Centre be incorporated with them.

For the absence of any doubt, this report is publicly available and cannot be airbrushed from history by the UUP. In fact, on 25 February 2005, the then Ulster Unionist Party leader and former First Minister David Trimble publicly endorsed the report incorporating the decision to locate the centre at the Maze and retain the prison buildings.

This is confirmed in a story published on the BBC website. The 2005 UUP decision to put the peace centre at the Maze site locked the facility into the site. Any decision to find an alternative location for the new centre (other than the Maze site) therefore legally requires cross-party political agreement and nationalists will not support this. This is the legacy that we inherited. Because the UUP endorsed decision to locate the PbCRC at the Maze is legally unalterable without nationalist support, the only options available to the DUP when they inherited this situation were either to shut down the Maze site and leave it derelict or seek to sanitise and detoxify the proposal and exploit its significant economic potential. No sensible opponent of the scheme has been prepared to say that they would have foregone the 5000 jobs and £300 million of investment. Yet no other alternative is available.On four separate occasions at your committee meeting last Wednesday 26 June I asked you which option you would have chosen had you been in my position. Tellingly four times you failed to answer. Once again I challenge you to answer now. Given the options that were available, would you have left the site derelict and foregone the 5000 jobs and £300 million investment? The idea that the rest of the site could have been developed without a Peace Centre ceased being an option once your predecessors in the UUP locked the Peace Centre into the Maze site.While the Panel’s proposal placed the Peace Centre within the curtilage of the prison buildings the present proposals separate the new centre from the listed and retained buildings. In addition as I told your committee, the new centre will not be a museum or visitor attraction and will not tell the history of the Maze site or the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Instead, it will be an internationally focused and academically based centre offering conference-type facilities for those engaged in conflict resolution, peace building and peace keeping across the globe. In effect the proposals now being considered by the deputy First Minister and I are a very considerable improvement on those presented when the UUP and SDLP were the lead parties. The present proposals, when they are finalised and published will be incapable of being interpreted as a shrine to terrorism or depicted as glorifying terrorism.In your letter you ask about the intended use of the listed prison buildings which your predecessors succeeded in having retained on the site. Let me be absolutely clear about this. No decision has been taken about any future use of the listed buildings and no decision will be taken without a community consensus being reached. As far as your concern about whether decisions we take will be binding on other Executive Ministers it is the case that any decision taken by OFMDFM will be binding and any conditions enforced.You then suggest that there was some conditionality about the component parts of the original master plan. This simply is not the case. Are you seriously attempting to tell the public that all of the objections you now belatedly state would be removed if there was a sports pitch on the site rather than the RUAS facility? Such absurdity! In what way would a sports pitch have sanitised the site in a way that the RUAS showgrounds would not?It is interesting that you seek to quote from what UUP Maze Panel Chairman and former UUP Chairman, David Campbell says now in a self serving fashion and ignore entirely what he said at the time. The historical record is not helpful to the case that you seek to make. Let me remind you, Mr Campbell said “the proposals would literally turn swords into ploughshares and provide a beacon of hope for Northern Ireland.” He added that the proposals were a ‘remarkable blueprint’. “For thirty years the prison has been a symbol of conflict, division and the worst days of Northern Ireland’s history and troubles. We are now able to offer a vision that is a symbol of hope for the future.” In addition, David Trimble said the project would provide much needed investment and turn the site, “into a tremendous symbol of positivity for Northern Ireland.”Finally, you raise the issue of consultation. As an act of kindness I have refrained until now from revealing that you were directly consulted in your capacity as a Victims Commissioner and made no objection on any of these matters. Prior to the formal consultation with stakeholders referred to in the FoI you quote my officials inform me that you, in your capacity as Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, attended a preliminary consultation meeting facilitated by SIB in relation to the proposed location, use and content of a Conflict Resolution and Peace Building Centre at the Maze. My officials inform me that you offered no opinion or view on any of these three key issues. Furthermore you failed to express even after this meeting your advice or view on any of these matters relating to the Maze when acting as an advocate for victims and survivors as their Commissioner.It is strange that when you had a statutory responsibility to speak for victims you were silent on this issue but now for party political purposes you seek to exploit the fears of victims.

As ever, Mike, the question is simply why?


Peter Robinson MLA

First Minister and Leader, Democratic Unionist Party