‘Terror tours’ already going on at Maze claim

TUV leader Jim Allister
TUV leader Jim Allister

Jim Allister has claimed the former Maze prison site is already hosting “terror tours” ahead of a controversial Conflict Transformation Centre being constructed.

Planning approval for the peace and reconciliation project was granted last week with an H-block and the old prison hospital being retained as part of the overall Troubles interpretive complex.

However, the TUV leader has questioned why a west Belfast-based organisation is already advertising tours of various locations – including the former prison.

The organisation states that the objective of its tours is to give the republican viewpoint using “trained guides from the political ex-prisoner community”.

According to their website, “Coiste can pre-arrange Political Education Itineraries, South Armagh, Derry Political and Maze Prison Tours”.

Coiste also claim to facilitate tours of the Shankill area “with ex-prisoners from a unionist background”.

Mr Allister said: “What on earth do people think republican former terrorist prisoners are telling people during their ‘Maze prison tours’?

“This is already a site controlled by OFMDFM. I have therefore tabled a question to co-First Ministers McGuinness and Robinson asking how many such tours have taken place, why are they permitted and since the organisation imposes a charge what financial arrangement exists.”

Mr Allister added: “The DUP keep insisting they have a veto on what happens on the Maze site so why have they not vetoed what is already happening there?

“It is obvious that the Maze is already drawing terror tourists. The number will only grow when millions of pounds are spent on a centre on the site.”

However, when contacted by the News Letter, Coiste said none of the organisation’s guides are directly involved in the advertised Maze tours.

A spokesman for the republican ex-prisoners’ organisation said: “Coiste do not organise any tours in the Maze/Long Kesh site.

“People contact us asking for it but there is a whole complicated procedure that is not handled by us. Somebody from the OFMDFM handles it.”

The spokesman added: “There is an application form you have to fill in, and the people doing the actual tours are the blue badge-type tour guides.

“They’re the same guys who could be down doing the Cathedral Quarter tomorrow and in two days’ time be up in the H-blocks.”

An OFMDFM spokesperson has said that any tours of the former Maze prison site already undertaken were arranged for elected representatives and their guests only.

In a statement released to the News Letter, they said: “OFMDFM does not facilitate tours of the Maze site or the prison buildings.

“Access is facilitated for elected representatives and guests on a pre-arranged basis. A very wide range of elected representatives and guests have, in the past, been granted access to the site.”