PEACE CENTRE OPPOSITION: TOM ROBERTS/EPIC

The recent organised political opposition to the development of a Conflict Transformation Centre at the former Long Kesh/Maze Prison site appears to be a classic case of “shutting the gate after the horse has bolted”.
The decision to develop the Centre involved all the major political parties, although some are currently distancing themselves from that decision making process. The gates of the prison had only just been closed for the final time in July 2000 when suggestions were made around some sort of museum / conflict resolution centre being developed on the site. One wonders why there wasn’t a sustained political campaign then to kill the plan at birth.
In a personal, informal contribution to “The Other View” magazine in the year 2000 my concluding paragraph read:

“What now for the future of Long Kesh? Personally, I would shed no tears if it were razed to the ground. Indeed that is what I would advocate. In recent weeks proposals have been made, particularly from Republican sources, to have it turned into some sort of museum. While I can understand their sentiments, I wonder, given their stance on Loyal Order parades, have they considered how the Unionist residents of the Maze would feel about what would be tantamount to a permanent Republican shrine in their midst.”

 

In February 2004, Martina Purdy wrote under an article “Maze of ideas for jail’s future”

“Local residents are not keen on the idea and Progressive Unionist Party’s David Ervine has suggested the old prison should be levelled.”

 

The Maze Consultation Panel which comprised an Ulster Unionist Chair, an SDLP Vice Chair and nominees from the DUP and Sinn Fein was established and had its inaugural meeting on 10th March 2003. EPIC in our submission to that body advocated that the prison should be demolished.

 

The panel’s final report was published in February 2005 under the heading “A new future for the Maze/Long Kesh”. In this report provision was made for the establishment of an “International Centre For Conflict Transformation” (ICCT). Clearly, the outcome of that consultation process did not reflect our viewpoint.

EPIC’s response to that report included the following points:

“EPIC, while having lost the argument that the site should be demolished, are keen to ensure that our constituency (former UVF/RHC prisoners) continue to be considered as key stakeholders.”

“There are deep concerns in our constituency around the format of exhibitions and tours. There is a fear that republicans would work actively to turn the site into a “shrine” commemorating the hunger strikers or some form of “Colditz” glorifying the 1983 escape. This would impact extremely negatively on the mission of the ICCT.”

 

Evidently, EPIC has articulated the concerns that our client base has in relation to the development of the centre and as late as August 2010 an interview for the News Letter under the heading “Demolish H-Block” included the following:

“the group was supportive of the proposed conflict resolution centre at the Maze but wanted to see the old buildings demolished.”

 

“For the international community, the two most significant events that took place in there would have been the hunger strike and the prison escape in 1983, so that is going to grasp the imagination of the international visitor.”

 

It has been thirteen years since the notion of the ICCT was mooted and now that it is almost “shovel ready” we have this belated political opposition. Surely, those political opponents who had a substantial mandate during the years of its development could have mounted a more effective strategy to prevent its progression.
As previously illustrated EPIC has been proactive since the outset in presenting the concerns of our client base in relation to the Long Kesh site, but having been politically overruled, we then had to work on the basis that the plans for the Centre were going forward.
Given that political reality a decision was taken in late 2010 that the best way to now address our concerns was to ensure that all relevant sectors are included in the development of the centre. That includes Loyalists, Republicans, Victims, Prison Officers, British Army, Police and residents of the Maze; indeed all communities whose lives were impacted upon by the prison camp. Failure to have done so would have left the door open for Republicans to present an unchallenged narrative on the history of the prison and the associated conflict; thus, making the likelihood of our fears being realised much more probable.
Therefore EPIC will continue to facilitate those UVF/RHC prisoners who wish to tell their experiences of Long Kesh and we have been cooperating with the Strategic Investment Board (SIB) to that effect since 2010 when a focus group of former UVF/RHC prisoners was established to advise and develop our contribution to Centre.

 

Tom Roberts

Director of EPIC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to PEACE CENTRE OPPOSITION: TOM ROBERTS/EPIC

  1. Charlie Freel

    Very impressive article, but completely misses the point, the facts are that as far as the vast majority of ex -UVF/RHC prisoners are concerned, they are totally opposed to a sham peace and non-existant reconcilliation, centre at Long Kesh until the H block and prison hospital are demolished.
    The IRA/DUP, parasites can rant and rave until they are blue in the face, but all that is required to stop them in their tracks, is the non participation of the ex- Loyalist Prisoner community. The genuinely Innocent Victim groups, the RUC, the prison service, the UDR, the PUP and all the other Unionist Parties, have made it clear that they will not be contributing to this rampant appeasement to the IRA.
    I for one will, if anything belonging to me, attributable to me, or in relation to me appears at this grotesque centre, will sue those responsible and I would advise every other ex-Loyalist Prisoner to do the same.
    I repeat that the erection of this centre beside what is already a Republican terrorist shrine, would be the ultimate insult to the genuinely Innocent Victims of the conflict and to our own Fallen Comrades.

  2. I too think it is an impressive article but happen to take a different view to you Charlie. It is no secret that there are totally opposing views within the former prisoner population around what should happen to the MLK site. And everyone is entitled to that opinion. Mine is–as a former prisoner myself–that we should and indeed need to buy into the ongoing process. As Tom states in the article many former UVF/RHC prisoners have been involved in a consultation process going back over 3 years. There is less chance of the site being turned into a Republican shrine if we are involved from the outset. The glaring reality is that whether we like it or not–or are involved or not–this project is going ahead. If we as a group dont remain on board our input will be supplied by someone else. More than likely some desk jockey currently sitting up at Dundonald House. I spoke to a former Prison Officer over the past weekend who was able to tell me that he–and many other former screws he knew–had received application forms in the post advertising the job as a Tour Guide. Did you receive one? No me neither. I am sick of hearing people say that we should be telling our own story and not leaving it up to others. That is why I feel it is imperative that we are involved in this project right through to the end.

  3. South Belfast

    Hi Guys Fortunately, luckily, call it what you wish but I never spent any time in the confines of these buildings we argue about or debate. I do have a point of view and I did spend many hours visiting my not so fortunate friends. My viewpoint leans towards the argument Charlie provides. The memories of MLK to international tourists and gloaters focus upon 2 key times, the hunger strikes and the escape. This alone will turn those buildings into the Republican Shrine sought by SFIRA. The persons I know who spent time there seem to not give a damn whether it goes or stays. My opinion would be to bulldoze it all. Should Loyalists wish to tell their stories or share their experiences I’m very sure platforms would be made available to them at the many centres for peace and reconciliation or museums like the Crumlin Road Prison.

    South Belfast

  4. Charlie Freel

    Well said Billy Joe, at long last a constructive suggestion on a democratically acceptable way forward for the ex-Loyalist Prisoner community, on this explosive issue. Plus an genuine desire to participate willingly, in a genuine Loyalist based, Loyalist funded and Loyalist manned, perpetual memorial to the sacrifices made by our rapidly increasing Battalions of the Dead, in defence of the democratic right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide their own future.