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

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt

2nd July 2013

Dear Peter,

Development of Maze Long Kesh (MLK)

Having engaged with your party colleague, Rt. Hon. Jeffrey Donaldson MP, in several media debates and discussions, I thought it might be a useful way to try to generate more light and less heat, to write to you on this matter.

As I have tried to make clear, I

· support the broad thrust of the Maze development (the £300million investment and projected 5,000 jobs);

· support the principle of a new build centre where we deal with issues regarding our troubled past and its legacy (although I remain unclear about the purpose and functions envisaged for your proposed Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre (PbCRC));

· oppose the location of the proposed PbCRC at the Maze.

My first question to you is this: why does this centre need to be built at the Maze?

As you now know, the proposal is opposed by innocent victims, including Innocent Victims United (IVU) who represent some 8,000 individual innocent victims; by the RUC George Cross Foundation; by the RUC GC Widows Association; by the Prison Officers Association; by the UDR Regimental Association; by the Orange Order; and by many, many right-thinking people, including all the elected parties of unionism, bar the DUP. Indeed, it appears the UDA / UPRG is the only identifiable body joining you as a pro-Union organisation in support of the proposal.

So, again: why does the PbCRC have to be built at the Maze?

Jeffrey Donaldson says that he can offer a “personal guarantee” regarding what will and will not be permitted by the DUP in relation to the retained buildings of the former HMP Maze and the PbCRC. Respectfully, my second question is this: does this extend to actions by the other NI Executive Ministers with responsibilities outwith OFMdFM?

This question is partly inspired by the results of Freedom of Information requests we submitted to the Department of Education. The responses indicate:

John O’Dowd is considering:

· Using the Department of Education’s social media networks to generate interest among schools

· Developing educational support materials which could be disseminated to schools

· Using a new online platform, designing a ready to go Peace Building and Conflict Resolution room for teachers to take, copy and use for their own classroom needs. This could contain documents, pictures, links, quizzes and discussions which would generate interest, debate and challenge through anytime, anywhere access. This virtual online room could also be used to prepare for, or follow up on, an educational visit to the centre at the Maze/Long Kesh site.

Given the Ulster Unionist Party`s discovery of the teaching notes associated with the ‘Bog Child’ book, we would have no confidence that this would be taken forward in a purely educational, non-biased manner.

May I also take the opportunity to put on record the Ulster Unionist Party’s position regarding the retained prison buildings and our objection to placing the PbCRC at the site.

Regarding the prison buildings, this matter was debated by a special meeting of the Planning Committee of Lisburn City Council on 12th February 2004. The Chair was Edwin Poots, who presided over a proposal from Councillor Jim Dillon of the Ulster Unionist Party, seconded by the DUP, and carried by 12 votes to 2 that “the Council would not be supportive of the concept, should it be considered, of part of the site being retained for museum purposes.”

The use of the phrase “should it be considered” is a telling indication that the Ulster Unionist Party were alert at a very early stage to the potential dangers that lay ahead and pro-active in their opposition.

On the question of the much discussed Maze Consultation Panel, chaired by David Campbell, it is noteworthy that your (DUP) representative was Edwin Poots, the man who chaired the 12th February Planning Committee meeting of Lisburn City Council. David is clear that it was agreed by all Maze Consultation Panel members that selectivity was not an option during their deliberations:

“The Panel agreed at the outset that for a Development Plan to be agreed and broadly acceptable to the wider community, there must be agreement by all four parties of its main components and it must be delivered as a complete package, not in pieces. Such was the controversy associated with parts of the site that this was the single over-riding principle on which we worked.”

David is equally clear that the Panel’s Report was signed off by the four leaders: David Trimble, Mark Durkan, Gerry Adams, and the then Leader of the DUP, Ian R K Paisley.

When the proposal for a national sports stadium fell, the entire Report fell.

Finally, regarding the location of the PbCRC, I note the response to a Freedom of Information request (FOI OFMDFM / 2013 – 0027) that lists the stakeholder engagement by the Department between 9th August 2010 and 21st March 2013. Within that information, it is clear that engagement with ex-prisoner groups far exceeded consultation with victims and survivors, e.g. ex-prisoner groups had been consulted no fewer than 9 times before any engagement with the Commission for Victims and Survivors NI, the latter being the Arms Length Body sponsored by OFMdFM, with a statutory duty to promote the interests of victims and survivors.

As ever, Peter, the question is simply, why?

Yours sincerely

Mike Nesbitt MLA

Leader, Ulster Unionist Party