THERE has been a mixed reaction to the plans for a new Peace and Reconciliation Centre at the site of the former Maze Prison.
Planning permission was granted last week for the scheme, which will see the start of the major redevelopment of the site.
The proposals have been publicly supported by many politicians, however, some local people have mixed feelings about the design of the building.
Lagan Valley MLA Trevor Lunn said: “The redevelopment process of the Maze site has faced many delays over several years, so I welcome the decision to grant planning permission for this project.
“Despite the controversy, this has the potential to be a major tourist attraction and information centre, much as other redundant prison sites such as Alcatraz, Robben Island and Kilmainham have become.
“By having a peace building and conflict transformation centre, we can have a focal point for all those who wish to visit Northern Ireland to learn about our peace process, as well as being a valuable information source for students.
“This should provide a central location for all the expertise we have built up in peace building, especially in our community and voluntary sector.
“There has been an increasing interest in this redevelopment and with the granting of planning permission I hope that the development can move ahead to satisfy this interest.”
The Chair of the Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation, Terence Brannigan, has also welcomed the news. “This announcement will afford us the opportunity to build a PbCRC which will, in time, enhance our regional and international reputation, share our expertise in peace-building and conflict resolution, and provide a focus to enable us to take the lead in European and worldwide peace-building networks,” he said.
“It also means that we can move towards the construction phase of the project by the end of this year, thereby creating local employment opportunities, at a time when our construction industry really needs support.
“The award of £18m funding from the EU is a significant and tangible demonstration of their support for our peace process. Without this support this Centre would not have been possible.”
“The 347 acre Maze Long Kesh site, the largest development opportunity in public ownership, is set to become a catalyst for change; it will create jobs, it will support our indigenous industries and it will offer everyone a share in a new future. It will also demonstrate how economic development can enable Northern Ireland to move from peace to prosperity.”
However, some Star readers are unconvinced by the design for the scheme and others are outraged that the centre is being built at the Maze at all.
“A peace centre could be built anywhere, it doesn’t have to be built on this site,” said an ex-prison officer.
“Men we worked with were killed there. Men were tortured and beaten to a pulp.
“It galls me to think that terrorists could end up being tour guides here.”
A former RUC officer was also opposed to the peace centre being built on the site of one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious prisons.
“To see the DUP move to collectively sponsor a so-called peace building beside an H block shrine at the Maze, is an affront to democracy and to all the victims of IRA atrocities,” he said.
A UKIP councillor is of the opinion that the plan for the centre is ill-conceived.
“UKIP recognises the strategic importance of the Maze site,” said Henry O’Reilly.
“It represents a once in a generation opportunity to deliver something remarkable, which benefits everyone in Lagan Valley and across Northern Ireland.
“However, the DUP’s proposals for the European Union funded Conflict Resolution and Peace Building Centre and the accompanying terrorist shrine are clearly ill-considered.
“It’s a damning indictment on the priorities of the Executive parties, who continue to deliver for the few, whilst failing to deliver for the many and reminds us just how out of touch the governing Sinn Fein – DUP axis at Stormont really is.”
Another reader proposed that the 300 acre site should be used to provide facilities for local children.
“As a local resident from the Maze area I would love to see facilities provided there for the young people in the area.
“A BMX track and a skate boarding rink would be fantastic. And perhaps a roller skating rink.
“We are always hearing how the kids of today need to be more active.
“Let’s give the kids of Lisburn somewhere to go.”