The UUP has uncovered a confidential report which it says proves the DUP could have linked the Maze ‘peace centre’ with buildings where IRA hunger strikers died.
The report showed that schools could be encouraged to take children as young as six to visit prison buildings revered in republican culture.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said yesterday that his party had been locked in a legal battle with the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) for over a year to see the report.
OFMDFM only released it under threat of being taken to court by the Information Commissioner’s Office after a Freedom of Information request.
Mr Nesbitt said: “The shocking detail reveals that despite DUP assurances to the contrary, OFMDFM’s advisors saw the retained prison buildings as inextricably linked to the proposed new [peace] centre.”
But DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson responded that OFMDFM did not request, commission or set the terms for the report. And he noted there was no physical link between the proposed peace centre and the prison buildings.
It was a case of “election panic stations in UUP HQ”, Mr Wilson said.
“Mike Nesbitt, bereft of reasons for anyone to vote Ulster Unionist, has decided to wheel out another scaremongering statement on the Maze site.”
The report released by OFMDFM was compiled by consultants Colliers International.
The UUP said the report shows that the peace centre and original prison buildings – so iconic in republican culture – were inextricably linked; the DUP have always insisted they were totally separate.
The report stated: “What makes Maze Long Kesh different from other peace centres and other sites of conflict is the juxtaposition of existing prison buildings, which were a focal point of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, with a stunning new building which offers an exciting space for a range of activities concerned with peace-building and conflict resolution.”
Mr Nesbitt also said it was “equally shocking” that the report included plans to use the facility to educate children as young as six about the Troubles; the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) indicated the centre could provide revised curriculum visits for Key Stages 1 and 2.
But DUP MP Mr Wilson said Mr Nesbitt had missed the fact that DUP leader Mr Robinson stopped the Maze after Sinn Fein’s “offensive PIRA commemoration” in Castlederg last summer.
Mr Wilson noted that the report was commissioned independently of OFMDFM – by the Strategic Investment Board – to examine a range of options to inform policy decisions by ministers.
“The location of the Peace Building Centre was always clear and was the subject of an open and transparent planning application attracting no objection from the UUP.”
He said there is no physical link between the two buildings and there was “ministerial agreement” that no peace centre activities would take place in the prison buildings.
The MP also said it was originally a UUP-led Maze panel which recommended the prison buildings and hospital be listed and retained; and that the peace centre should be built within them – all of which he said was approved by then UUP leader David Trimble.
“The DUP would not have chosen the Maze site as the location for the peace centre,” Mr Wilson said, “but that decision was taken before Peter Robinson became First Minister.”
Having inherited the UUP’s “mess” he said, the DUP laid down conditions that it could not proceed without support from both communities.
TUV leader Jim Allister said the report was “a timely reminder of what the DUP and Sinn Fein would have done with £18 million of EU funding at the Maze”.