DUP urges Sinn Fein to allow rest of Maze plan to go ahead

A public rally against the Maze peace centre
A public rally against the Maze peace centre
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The DUP last night called on Sinn Fein to make clear that it will allow the rest of the Maze redevelopment to proceed after Peter Robinson vetoed the building of a peace centre at the site.

Last night Arlene Foster called on republicans to demonstrate “leadership” by making clear its support for the rest of the vast economic project.

Sinn Fein has reacted angrily to Mr Robinson’s decision on Wednesday night to block the peace centre and shut up the remaining prison buildings on the site. But the party has been coy about whether it will respond in kind by vetoing the entire redevelopment.

Tonight Martin McGuinness is expected to use a republican commemoration in Leitrim to comment on the controversy for the first time since reading of Mr Robinson’s letter in the media.

Mrs Foster said that the DUP had received great support for Mr Robinson’s “decisive action” and insisted that he had been “absolutely consistent”. The DUP minister added: “If Sinn Fein does want to demonstrate some leadership now then not only could they leave behind their recent tactics, but they could 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.”

In a joint letter published in today’s News Letter, the three politicians who led unionist opposition to the Maze said that the voices of victims had been crucial to the U-turn.

Tom Elliott, Jim Allister and David McNarry also said that unionists should work together to ensure the peace centre was not resurrected.

Yesterday unionist support for the DUP’s decision continued to pour in. The Independent Orange Order welcomed the move and reissued a speech made by Grand Master Alan McLean on the Twelfth in Portglenone in which he said that he believed the Maze centre “could so easily become a shrine to IRA terrorism despite the best efforts of well-meaning people to prevent that from happening”.

Yesterday prison officers called for the former jail to be bulldozed. A watchtower, H-block cell and prison hospital where Bobby Sands starved to death in a 1981 campaign for political status have been preserved but Prison Officers’ Association (POA) chairman Finlay Spratt said they should be razed to the ground.

“From the day the Maze closed in 2000, the Prison Officers’ Association’s view was that it should be bulldozed, the whole site, and turned over to public use,” he said.

Mr Spratt, who represents more than 1,000 officers, said his difficulty was not with a peace centre per se, but its location.

He added: “Our view from the outset was that the Maze has such a bad history that we would be better to bulldoze. There should be no glorification of terrorism from whatever side it comes from.”

And yesterday a Church of Ireland minister whose father and uncle were murdered by the IRA – and who spoke out strongly against the Maze proposals in this newspaper two weeks ago – welcomed Peter Robinson’s move. But the Rev Alan Irwin, a Church of Ireland minister in the Fermanagh parish of Lack, said that “in welcoming the DUP decision on the Maze, I do so with an air of caution” as it had only be “shelved”, not ruled out.

He told the News Letter that there was “a long road ahead that will be filled with more hurdles and struggles that will undoubtedly see the innocent victims of terrorism being further used for party political purposes. I just hope and pray that the DUP are sincere in their comments towards the innocent victims of terrorism and that their belated actions to this Maze proposal are not just lip service but are heartfelt”.

But NI21 leader Basil McCrea, who blamed Sinn Fein for “ratcheting up tensions” said that the peace centre could have provided a chance to “teach young people here and in other parts of the world the desolation of violence”.

That chance had now been lost, the Lagan Valley MLA said, and added: “In my opinion Peter Robinson’s decision effectively signals a post-Robinson DUP – this will be a much less progressive party.”