Maze project could create 5,000 jobs

EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY DECEMBER 30. File photo dated 27/09/83 of an aerial view of the Maze Prison. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's secret attempts to end the IRA hunger strikes are revealed in official documents made public for the first time today. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday December 30, 2011. In public, Thatcher took an unbending stand, insisting she would not bow to the demands of republican prisoners held in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison for so-called 'special status'. However files released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, under the 30-year rule show how her government sent messages to the IRA leadership through a secret intermediary promising concessions if the hunger strikes were called off. See PA story RECORDS Maze. Photo credit should read:PA Wire
EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY DECEMBER 30. File photo dated 27/09/83 of an aerial view of the Maze Prison. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's secret attempts to end the IRA hunger strikes are revealed in official documents made public for the first time today. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday December 30, 2011. In public, Thatcher took an unbending stand, insisting she would not bow to the demands of republican prisoners held in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison for so-called 'special status'. However files released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, under the 30-year rule show how her government sent messages to the IRA leadership through a secret intermediary promising concessions if the hunger strikes were called off. See PA story RECORDS Maze. Photo credit should read:PA Wire

The transformation of the Maze prison site could create 5,000 jobs, the deputy First Minister said.

Martin McGuinness predicted an estimated £300 million in investment and the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) has already decided to relocate there.

The high-security jail housed paramilitary prisoners during the conflict in Northern Ireland from 1971. The prison, where 10 men died during the 1981 hunger strikes, closed in 2000.

Mr McGuinness told the Assembly: “The development corporation’s key aim will be to maximise the economic, historic and reconciliation potential of the site and we are pleased to report that this is already under way through the confirmed relocation of the RUAS to the site in time for its 2013 agricultural show.

“The 20 million euros EU-funded peace building and conflict resolution centre will also be constructed by 2015 and early indications suggest that the development of the 347 acre site could deliver an estimated £300 million in investment with approximately 5,000 jobs created on and through the site.”

The chairman of Glentoran Football Club has been selected to spearhead the body that will oversee the transformation of the former prison site.

Terence Brannigan, who is also a member of the DUP, will be chairman of the new Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation.

Mr Brannigan has said he expected the development would be well used and open for a wide range of events.

He has promised a Conflict Transformation Centre on the site would not be a shrine to terrorists.

The Maze was earmarked for a new national sports stadium but the proposal was rejected after years of disagreement.

In June, members of the RUAS voted in favour of moving their headquarters there from the King’s Hall in south Belfast.

The conflict resolution centre will provide a place for visitors from around the world to exchange views on conflict transformation, a focus for education and research about the troubles together with exhibition space and an archive.

It is envisaged there will be input from ex-prisoners, prison officers and victims.

The centre will sit alongside a preserved H block and other buildings, including the chapel and the hospital where the hunger strikers died.

Some unionists have been critical of the preserving of certain parts because of their significance to the republican movement.

Mr McGuinness said the regeneration of the Crumlin Road Gaol was also at a pivotal stage and has added to the overall potential of revitalising North Belfast.

A wing has been leased to Belfast Distillery and will become a boutique distillery, visitor centre, tasting room, restaurant and shop, potentially creating up to 60 jobs and attracting over 40,000 visitors in the first year rising to 100,000 by year three.

Mr McGuinness said Belfast Tours Ltd had been appointed to run the visitor attraction and conference centre at the jail, which will create up to 40 jobs and attract an estimated 90,000 visitors a year.