The decision by DUP First Minister Peter Robinson to withdraw his party’s support for a “peace and interpretative” centre on the site of the former Maze prison was perhaps inevitable considering the widespread opposition in the unionist community to a development which many believed would become an “IRA shrine”.
The First Minister could not ignore the pain and concern that was increasingly evident among victims’ groups and the unionist grassroots. They feared that the proposed centre would contain a weaselled narrative of the Troubles from a narrow republican perspective. The Maze centre was part of a £300m site redevelopment and the DUP found itself on the wrong side of entrenched unionist opinion by backing this most controversial concept.
Undoubtedly, in a significant political climbdown, Peter Robinson and DUP colleagues were influenced by raw emotions that surfaced among innocent victims over the squalid Sinn Fein-organised Castlederg parade last Sunday, commemorating IRA terrorists.
They witnessed unreconstructed, utterly insensitive Sinn Fein rhetoric from senior republican politicians in Castlederg which very pointedly glorified and justified naked terrorism. To continue backing a ‘peace centre’ in which such people would have direct influence simply became untenable for Mr Robinson.
The First Minister has also rightly ruled out any public use of the retained buildings - the sole remaining H-Block cell, which held those convicted of the most heinous crimes, and the hospital where IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands took his own life.
This newspaper has consistently given voice to the victims of those who were rightly incarcerated at the Maze. It is those victims, rather than the political opponents of the DUP, who can take the most credit for Mr Robinson’s sudden U-turn.
All parties and all leaders make mistakes. In such circumstances, those who listen to the pleas of those they represent and accept their error deserve credit.