UP to 500 people have attended a rally at the former Maze prison site near Lisburn demanding the demolition of the jail’s old hospital wing.
Last night’s protest is part of a wider campaign to prevent the disused medical complex — which is strongly linked to republican hunger strikes — from being incorporated into a new conflict transformation centre. Invited speakers included TUV leader Jim Allister and Tom Elliott of the UUP.
Willie Frazer of victims’ group FAIR attended the rally on his return from meeting Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Dublin with relatives of the Kingsmills atrocity victims.
Speaking ahead of the rally he said: “It must be remembered some of those same IRA hunger strikers were actively involved in the 1976 Kingsmills atrocity and other brutal acts of terrorism. However, victims wish to state they do not object to the remainder of the Maze project or a conflict transformation centre — they simply do not want the Maze hospital building retained.”
Mr Allister addressed the protestors saying the project was “obnoxious to the vast majority of people” and unacceptable to unionists.
“If all that is proposed is not about allowing the rewrite of history, the glorification of the hunger strikers and their bloodthirsty compatriots, then, why not defuse the controversy by demolishing these ugly buildings and remove the blight from the site? It couldn’t be clearer, the prison hospital will be open and used to glorify the hunger strikers. These buildings will become the focal point of Provo revisionism, a place of pilgrimage for physical force republicanism.”
The TUV leader added: “This sorry saga at the Maze typifies the outworkings of roll-over unionism. We shortly celebrate the heroic valour of our Covenant forefathers. How they would have despaired that after all their sacrifice unionist leaders in this generation facilitate the glorification of the very IRA terrorists that butchered our kith and kin and bequeathed us thousands of innocent victims.”
Polish/American architect Daniel Libeskind — who created the Jewish museum in Berlin and the Ground Zero project on the site of the Twin Towers atrocity in New York — has been recruited to design the new centre at the Maze.
He has said he hopes the facility will help bring people in Northern Ireland together.
Mr Elliott said: “These are buildings which were listed under direct rule and three subsequent DUP Environment Ministers refused to change their status meaning that legally they must be preserved. Why preserve the places where convicted terrorists were sentenced to and where hunger strikers died? For many victims of terrorist violence the retention of the prison hospital in particular does not lend itself to any notion of peace and reconciliation and it will inevitably become a place of pilgrimage for republicans.”