The DUP has repeatedly challenged Sinn Fein to affirm its backing for significant investment and 5,000 jobs at the Maze prison, despite the unionist party withdrawing its support for a peace centre at the location which many feared would become a “shrine” to IRA hunger strikers.
Last week First Minister Peter Robinson’s dramatic U-turn on support for the centre ignited fresh tensions at Stormont’s mandatory power-sharing executive. He blamed Sinn Fein “insensitivity” on issues such as parading and flags, and cited a contentious IRA commemoration parade in Co Tyrone among the reasons for the policy change.
Terror victims’ groups, the Orange Order and other unionist parties had opposed development of the centre.
On Saturday Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told a republican commemoration in Leitrim that stalling development of the peace centre is a mistake that could jeopardise jobs and the peace process.
In advance of his speech, Stormont Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster appealed for Sinn Fein to show “leadership” and make a clear statement that the remainder of the Maze site “should be developed for the good of everyone in Northern Ireland and to generate the 5,000 jobs and many millions of pounds for our local economy”.
On Saturday DUP MLA Edwin Poots said Mr McGuinness “needs to stop blaming everyone else” for the DUP U-turn, citing Sinn Fein’s backing for an IRA parade in Castlederg, naming of a children’s play park in Newry after an IRA member and what he described as “whipping up of community tensions” over parades.
Yesterday, DUP minister Nelson McCausland challenged Sinn Fein once again on its position on the outstanding jobs and investment at the Maze.
“Once again republicans seek to blame everyone for their own outrageous behaviour,” he said. “The action taken by Peter Robinson was not taken in a vacuum but in the context of Sinn Fein repeatedly undermining unionist belief in their commitment to reconciliation.
“The DUP has been absolutely clear in the last few days but it obviously needs to be repeated – the rest of the Maze development can and should proceed without obstruction. The decision regarding the peace centre does not need to impact upon the massive economic potential of the site and the thousands of jobs which can flow as a result. The only people who appear to be casting any doubt on these jobs are Sinn Fein.
“It’s time Martin McGuinness took off his green, white and orange glasses and lifted his gaze beyond the audiences of republican commemorations.”
Meanwhile, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said the DUP-Sinn Fein row continues to “sour the political process”.
See Alex Kane, page 15