As two amendments have been selected, the Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 45 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. The proposer of each amendment will have 10 minutes in which to propose and five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.
I beg to move
That this Assembly recognises the potential social and economic benefits which the utilisation of former security sites, such as the site of the Maze prison, can bring to Northern Ireland; notes with concern the proposals to build a “peace-building and conflict resolution centre” at the site; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to develop this site in a way which is practical and inoffensive to victims.
The issue of the Maze site is clearly of significant relevance and strategic importance to Northern Ireland, as are the former military sites. I have looked at some of those sites and their ongoing development. Ilex in Londonderry is developing the Ebrington site as well as Fort George. Having recently visited the area with colleagues, I have seen that the ongoing development there is significant and will hopefully be a major boost to the north-west in a very short time. Obviously, that can only be good for Northern Ireland. I also note the proposals for the Lisanelly site in Omagh, where the proposed educational campus is planned, although there appears to be some delay with that. I am pleased that the First Minister and the Acting deputy First Minister are here. I am not sure whether the latter, in his role as Education Minister, can enlighten us any further at this stage as to progress at Lisanelly. However, that may be a debate for another day.
I want to see development at the Maze that will enhance Northern Ireland strategically and be of huge importance to the entire community. The consultative group and consultation panel met some time ago, and I think that all the main political parties in Northern Ireland were represented. They brought forward proposals to the Ministers at that time, and the direct rule Ministers then brought forward the Maze master plan, as I call it, which included the national stadium, the conflict transformation centre and the equestrian centre of excellence as well as potential economic development and housing. It seemed to be work in progress at that time. However, at some stage in OFMDFM the whole master plan was pulled, and the Department started to look at new developments.
I am pleased that the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society is looking at the site. Hopefully, those discussions are ongoing and will come to a positive conclusion in the near future. Obviously, there is quite an incentive for it to move. It would be a huge opportunity for the organisation to have a site outside Belfast and somewhere that would be more accessible for big events.
The Ulster Unionist Party supports the concept of a peace-building centre and wants to see that happening. At this stage and given it in isolation, we do not believe that the Maze site is the most appropriate site because of its historical nature. If it were developed along with the rest of the proposals in the Maze master plan, it would be a much bigger and wider development, and Northern Ireland could have a series of developments on site that could bring huge capability to the whole of Northern Ireland.
I praise the Ulster Aviation Society, which does a huge amount of good work at the Maze. I have visited its site and seen what is on display. The exhibitions are great, and I hope that there will be support for that proposal to be developed. The society is a voluntary organisation, and many individuals put a lot of work into it.
The Ulster Unionist Party has concerns about the current proposal for the conflict centre, the resolution centre or the conflict transformation centre — whatever name is put on it. Some time ago, I asked to see the application form for the funding for the centre. I did not get it, and I am not sure what the proposals are with regard to the development process. If there were less secrecy about the proposal, maybe we could look at it in a more strategic and definitive manner. Hopefully, that can go out for consultation at some stage. I would like to hear from the First Minister or the Acting deputy First Minister about how much consultation there has been on the current proposal for the conflict transformation centre and the responses that have been received. I have received representation from victims’ groups who have significant concerns about the proposal for a stand-alone centre.
There is a huge gap now. We have missed out on the overall Maze development that was in the master plan. I assume that the First Minister or Acting deputy First Minister will bring forward ideas today on where we are going with the entire project. I know that they are in the process of setting up the body corporation. Maybe they can give us some insight into where that is going.
At this stage, we have significant concerns about the conflict transformation centre, especially in light of the fact that we do not have the information on the funding application and it was not made available to us, and we have concerns about the proposal itself.
Finally, I understand that a funding application of £20 million has been put forward to the SEUPB.
The Member has indicated that he has concerns about the conflict transformation centre. Will the Member expand on the concerns that were expressed to him by victims or victims’ groups or, alternatively or in addition, the concerns that he and his party have about the centre?
I thank the Member for that. The concerns are from victims’ groups, in particular. They believe that it could be some sort of terrorist shrine. Since there is so much secrecy and we do not have the information on it, we, or I in particular, cannot answer their questions. That is the main concern. I would like to address those concerns. I would like to give those people some type of positive answer. If we can do that, so much the better.
My final point relates to the £20 million application to the SEUPB. Is that additional money coming into Northern Ireland through Peace funding, or is it part of the Peace III money that will be taken away from other community groups on the ground, which, in these times of austerity, are in very bad need of that money? If it is additional money, it is, obviously, beneficial; if it is coming out of the block that we already get, we need to know that, and we need to know what groups will suffer because of it.
“acknowledges that the transformation of the Maze/Long Kesh site into a peace-building and conflict resolution centre must have due regard to the needs of victims and survivors; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to prioritise this need whilst urgently progressing a development and job creation strategy for the site.”
The former Maze/Long Kesh site offers an opportunity that, to date, has been missed, and I hope that it is not too late. Our amendment calls for that opportunity to be fully utilised. There is obvious potential economic benefit to be had from it. It would have a positive impact on the construction sector, and it has the potential to provide a boost in tourism numbers. However, that potential will be fulfilled only if the Executive implement a jobs creation and investment strategy for the site. The site also provides a tremendous opportunity for the Balmoral show. If it were transferred to the site, it could create a major agriculture show for the whole island, second only to the national ploughing championships.
The Maze/Long Kesh site reminds us of the utter failure of the Assembly to address the issues around our troubled past. The conflict transformation centre proposed for the site can and should play an important role in addressing that issue. If such a centre is to be truly worthwhile, it should be centred on real and hard issues. It should not be a centre for self-congratulation. The residues of the conflict are still real and raw. That is evident in the victims’ and survivors’ continuing frustration that the Executive have not agreed a comprehensive mechanism for dealing with the past. There is also the residue of paramilitarism, with attacks on our people and our peace, not least in my own city of Derry.
There is an opportunity for the centre to be tasked with dealing with the coming decade of centenaries. The transformative decade that shaped the island for the last century through conflict, identify and the tragedy of partition is set to be celebrated or commemorated throughout Ireland. Our complex past is, therefore, very much on the horizon of our immediate future. The commemorations of the signing of the Ulster covenant and those of the Somme, the Easter rising, the civil war and, ultimately, partition are events that need the combined leadership of all strands of political opinion and leadership on this island. The conflict transformation centre should be tasked with giving the necessary expertise to ensure that the forthcoming debate and reflection on our history is approached in a mature and responsible fashion.
Given the recession, I hope that it is not too late. It is true that the Maze/Long Kesh site has the potential not only to have a major impact on the area’s economic future but to allow a mature discussion to be had about our past. Hopefully, that will help in some way to bring reconciliation closer.
I want to address some of the other points that have not yet been covered. It is unfortunate that the first two contributions majored immediately on the conflict transformation centre. Let us remind ourselves of what the Maze/Long Kesh site is capable of delivering. It is a 350-acre strategic development opportunity that is twice the size of the Titanic Quarter. It is located directly beside the Blaris site, which is 400 acres and which has been given approval, in principle, in the Department of the Environment’s master plan for the area. I feel that the Maze site and the Blaris site could create a massive opportunity for job creation in Northern Ireland. It is important that we set the context correctly for all this.
It has been estimated that 60% of the population can reach the Maze site within 30 minutes and that 80% of our population can reach it within one hour. It has the best access routes from the west, south and north of the Province, and, strategically, its location in relation to the Republic of Ireland will allow it to capitalise on flights coming in to Dublin airport. The site has the potential to create massive investment opportunities, and the master plan for the site indicated that up to 6,000 jobs could be created. At this time of economic difficulty, it is important that we drive forward the opportunity that the site presents.
The history of the site has quite a range of interests. Originally, in the vocabulary of the local people, it was known as Long Kesh. It was a site for the Royal Air Force, when it was known officially as RAF Long Kesh. Indeed, the British military association with the site, prior to its becoming a prison, is one that we can have immense pride in. When I spoke on this issue in the House before the previous election, I pointed out some of that history. The site was visited by President Eisenhower during the Second World War and by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Indeed, the first flight taken by our own queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, was to RAF Long Kesh. Members need to be aware of that history and not just of the more commonly known recent history that relates to the prison. That is why I have a particular difficulty when republicans consistently refer to the site as “Long Kesh”. Clearly, there is a drive to romanticise what happened during the period when the site was a prison, particularly on the part of republicans. However, there was no romanticism during that period. That was a period of our past that was wrong and that should never have happened. We should never allow what happened to be forgotten, particularly by those who were incarcerated during that period. We should also not allow the term “Long Kesh” to be hijacked by republicans. The site was commonly and locally known as Long Kesh in the past, and I have no difficulty in referring to it as Long Kesh or, officially, as the Maze/Long Kesh.
In the more recent past, the site became known as HMP Maze, and we can never forget what happened during that period. I will particularly never forget the fact that 29 prison officers lost their life during our conflict. I declare an interest, because family members of mine served in the Prison Service.
Many more were injured physically during the time that they served in our prisons and particularly at the Maze. Many who had to work in that institution still bear the mental hallmarks of the period. We can never forget the sacrifice that was paid by those individuals during that time.
The motion particularly notes the conflict resolution centre. Given that it was tabled by the Ulster Unionist Party, I find it very difficult to understand why that party has highlighted this particular issue. Of all parties, it has its hallmarks all over the fact that the conflict resolution centre ever got on to the paper that was produced by the direct rule Ministers. It was the Maze consultation panel’s final report of 2005 that recommended that there should be an international centre for conflict resolution. I and my party supported that recommendation at the time, and we still support it. However, the hypocrisy coming from the Benches of the Ulster Unionist Party is completely and utterly rank. Over the weekend, at that party’s conference, its chairman, David Campbell, said that he felt that the contribution made by the party over the past decade has not been recognised or valued in how it moved the process on.
I want to pay tribute to David Campbell, the chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, for the work that he has done in moving Northern Ireland forward, particularly for his work as chairman of the Maze consultation panel that produced the 2005 report. I will cite a couple of the recommendations that came out of that report under his chairmanship. The report says:
“We believe that the site would be an ideal location for an International Centre for Conflict Transformation and as such has the potential to play an important part in promoting a shared society.”
Now, the leader of that party says that it does not believe that the Maze is an ideal location for a conflict transformation centre. That is not what the current chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party said when he was chairman of the Maze panel.
The report went on to say:
“The development of an International Centre for Conflict Transformation would add considerably to the synergy of the other proposed developments, and help to establish the international profile and identity of the Maze/Long Kesh.”
So, the panel recommended that the proposal would work with all the other aspects that were proposed for the industrial and commercial development of the site and would sit well with and support the promotion of the entire site.
Obviously, there was concern, and the Member referred to it, that the site could become a shrine. That exercised our minds and those of the party on the Benches beside me at the time. I supported the recommendation of the panel chaired by David Campbell of the Ulster Unionist Party, which was:
“The facility would be a neutral, inclusive and constructive ‘place apart’, to be used by organisations and communities to further the cause of conflict transformation.”
It was to be a “neutral” site. Just to be absolutely clear, the report made another recommendation:
“To be successful, it will be essential for the facility to be genuinely neutral and inclusive, and not perceived as being owned by any one section of society.”
So, let us be clear: there will be no shrine at the Maze. There never will be. The site was never envisaged as a shrine. As long as my party holds the position of First Minister, we will ensure that there will never be a shrine at the Maze.
No, I will not give way; I want to continue my speech.
When the Ulster Unionist Party raises this issue, it does a disservice to those whom it purports to represent, namely, the victims. It uses the victims in a very callous manner in order to try to make a political issue of a site that has the potential to drive economic regeneration in Northern Ireland.
Given the work done by David Campbell, along with that done by this party, to ensure that the centre would never be a shrine, the Ulster Unionist Party should reflect on what it does in using victims to politicise this issue.
If the Members beside me were genuinely interested in victims, why did they support the Belfast Agreement and thereby agree to prisoners being released from the Maze? It was not my party but the party beside me that released those prisoners. It signed up to an agreement under which prisoners were released, causing hurt and harm to victims who had suffered during that period. I will not take that hypocrisy from the Members opposite. We have ensured that the Maze site will never become a shrine, as has our First Minister. I pay tribute to David Campbell who joined with our party to ensure that the site never becomes a shrine. I, therefore, commend my party’s amendment to the House. I will also be supporting the SDLP’s amendment.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo, nó is tionscadal an-tábhachtach é ar fad. Beimid ag tabhairt tacaíochta don dá leasú.
History or, indeed, her story is very subjective, especially in a society that is coming out of conflict. We all have our starting points and analyses, and we are all very affected by our experiences and those of the communities that we represent. There is validity to all our histories, or her stories, whether you are a republican, a loyalist, a member of the British Army, a member of the RUC, someone who has worked at Long Kesh, or someone who has been a guest there. We obviously do not all agree with one another. We all have differing and varying analyses of the root causes of the conflict and different views on the role of the British state in the conflict. However, I hope that we have moved to a situation where each of us recognises that people from every community have suffered, that in our society many people are disadvantaged and marginalised and that each of us is trying to build a better future for all our people.
Last week, I was in University College Dublin (UCD) debating with Basil McCrea, Jim Wells and Peter Weir. We obviously aired our differences there, but what struck me and, indeed, the audience during and after the debate was that we all supported the peace process and felt that we are in a better place than we were in the past and that change is badly needed in our society. No one should be afraid of supporting diversity and equality, of making our society more inclusive and of studying the root causes of our conflict so that it never happens again. Those who ignore our history are destined to repeat it.
The 360-acre site provides us with a unique opportunity to export our experience of peace-building and conflict resolution, difficult as it has been, through support for delegations to and from different parts of the world that are emerging from conflict. It provides us with the possibility of maximising the economic, historical and reconciliation potential of the site. It also provides us with an opportunity to support research and practical learning. It has the potential to provide us with an opportunity for all stories to be told, including those about the prison, World War II, the peace process and international experiences. It would provide much-needed jobs for the construction and tourism industries and help to further develop the Belfast-Dublin corridor.
I, along with the OFMDFM Committee, visited the Long Kesh site, the prison and the Ulster Aviation Society hangar. I listened to Tom Elliott, who was part of that delegation, speaking on ‘Hearts and Minds’ the other night about his party’s support for equality. So, my question to the UUP and Tom is this: what are you afraid of? Why the selective approach? What is needed here is leadership, not hollow words about equality — ceannaireacht — Ar aghaidh linn le chéile. Tá todhchaí níos éagsúla de dhíth orainn go léir.
Let us continue to work together to build a diverse, dynamic future and a society that is at ease with itself and provides opportunities for all our citizens. Let us not play politics with victims.
It is good to get an opportunity to revisit the issue of the Maze site. I am grateful to Mr Elliott and his colleagues for bringing the matter back to the House, even though I do not particularly agree with their motion.
The motion has three parts to it. Mr Elliott clarified the situation with the conflict transformation centre. It is quite obvious — correct me if I am wrong — that he does not want such a centre in any format at the Maze, so we will not be supporting the motion. However, we are happy to support the SDLP amendment and, if necessary, the DUP amendment.
The Member who spoke previously referred to the consultation panel. I sat on the final consultation panel for the Maze under the chairmanship of Mr Poots, who is here today. Certainly, it was my impression that all parties agreed that there would be a conflict transformation centre as part of the overall master plan for the Maze site. That was during direct rule. We definitely saw such a centre as part of the development. Again, I stand ready to be corrected, but I think that the Ulster Unionists were represented on that panel and were fully —
I thank the Member for giving way. Does he accept that that was in the overall context of the Maze master plan and not of a stand-alone conflict transformation centre, as I have explained?
I will come to that. We should not talk in piecemeal terms about the site but about its overall development. As far as I am concerned, the only possible site for the type of conflict transformation centre that was envisaged by all parties at that time is on part of the Maze site. It does not make any sense to put it anywhere else. I heard the suggestion that a centre could go somewhere else in Northern Ireland, but I really do not think so.
No, thank you.
We have heard so much about the Maze development. I wonder why no serious progress has been made. In 2001, I joined Lisburn City Council. That was 10 years ago. The Maze development was a live issue then. I suppose that it is still a live issue. I do not mean to be flippant in any way, Mr Speaker. However, so far, some old buildings have been demolished and a nice new entrance has been put up. That is about it. I am aware that there has been remedial work, decontamination, and so on, but, basically, nothing has happened.
We have also abandoned what a lot of us thought was an excellent stadium proposal for reasons that are, perhaps, not unconnected with the other topic that we are talking about, namely the conflict transformation centre, or, to put it in another way, unionists’ inability to countenance, at that time, a conflict transformation centre or a stadium somewhere other than Belfast. I note that the DUP amendment removes the issue of concern about the principle of such a centre. That indicates that the party is now on board. Mr Givan confirmed that quite adequately. The DUP will now agree to the centre as long as it is practical and inoffensive.
Obviously, there is ongoing concern about a terrorist shrine. I wonder what it is about that proposal that continues to frighten unionists. Our history and the path to peace in Northern Ireland are matters of world interest. The history of the Maze is integral to that. I take Mr Givan’s point in particular about the wider history of the Maze. However, there is no doubt that the main focus of world attention has been on the past 40 years. The Maze prison is absolutely central to that.
The Maze panel had information on similar projects around the world. Some were based in disused prisons, others were not. The fear that the one at the Maze could become some kind of a shrine or place of pilgrimage really has no foundation whatsoever. The history to be told covers all sections of society. There is no way that a properly planned centre would be allowed to evolve in any other way. The project would have to be controlled by OFMDFM either directly or through the medium of the Maze development corporation. That is another body that it seems to be taking an eternity to establish. Perhaps the First Minister can update the House on progress towards its establishment. I think that it has now been over a year since the promised implementation date was passed.
The SDLP amendment makes sense. My party will support it even though I could be pedantic and point out that it seems to refer to the whole site when only a few acres of it are needed for a transformation centre. It also expresses the need to progress urgently a development and job creation strategy for the site. That wish is reflected in the original motion. I hope that the First Minister will comment on that as well.
At the moment, there is an empty site of over 300 acres. There is a discontinued stadium plan and master plan that cost several million pounds. The only semi-concrete proposal is the one for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS). I wonder whether it is having second thoughts. Is there any other genuine expression of interest in using the site? Again, perhaps the First Minister can enlighten us.
Progress is so painfully slow. We really do need some activity, action and regeneration — not regeneration of the site but regeneration of the process.
This is a very interesting subject, and it is very interesting that the Ulster Unionists have brought the matter forward now. One can see only rank hypocrisy from the Ulster Unionist Benches.
For many years, the Maze site was a matter of discussion. I have been integrally involved from the outset — along with the Ulster Unionist Party, I have to say. David Campbell was chairman of the Maze consultation panel for many years. I sat under his chairmanship, just as the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party now sits under his chairmanship. Through working intensively on the issues, we arrived at a position that was acceptable to the Ulster Unionist Party then and to the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party then. Indeed, it was acceptable to the Democratic Unionist Party then. The difference is that it is still acceptable to the Democratic Unionist Party, because we dealt with the issues at the time.
It was made very clear by the then direct rule Ministers that it was not up to the panel members to make a decision on behalf of their parties. Rather, they had to be able to demonstrate that they had their parties’ support. Mr Campbell received the support of the Ulster Unionist Party for the proposal to develop the conflict transformation centre at the site. In 2005, I received the support of the Democratic Unionist Party for that development. As I recall, the proposal went to the party officers of the Democratic Unionist Party, and everyone in the Chamber will know that the party officers at that time included Mr Allister, who sheds crocodile tears over the issue now yet did not raise it as an issue then.
It is indeed. Before he gets obsessed with my position, he might like to reflect on the position of his deputy leader, Mr Nigel Dodds, who is on record as saying:
“However it is dressed up, whatever spin is deployed, the preservation of a section of the H-Blocks — including the hospital wing — would become a shrine to the terrorists who committed suicide in the Maze in the 1980s ... That would be obnoxious to the vast majority of people and is something unionist people cannot accept.”
Therefore, before the Member turns his attention to me, who never assented to any shrine, would he like to deal with how it is that his deputy leader seemed to have and still has — for he has never repudiated his statement — the same concerns? That raises the question: if you need a conflict resolution centre, why do you need to retain the buildings? Why do you need it at the Maze?
Nor did Mr Allister, or any of the Ulster Unionists, object to the buildings’ being listed in the first instance. The record will show who made the objections to the then Environment and Heritage Service. It was Jeffrey Donaldson and Edwin Poots, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist Party, who made the objections, who went to see the Environment and Heritage Service, who made the case for it —
I do not really mind the flak, Mr Speaker, because, when you throw a dog into a pack of hounds, the ones that yelp the loudest are the ones that are hurt the most. The fact of life is that, of the parties to my right, neither the TUV — I do not know whether I should describe it as a party, because it is a single person — nor the Ulster Unionist Party voiced one smidgeon of opposition to the listing of those buildings at that time. They want to close the door after the horse has bolted. You are being shown up as the hypocrites that you are. The work that was done —
I was referring to the parties, but I see that some people are very touchy. They do not like being faced with robust debate; they just like to be robust in their comments when they do not have the opportunity for a response.
It was made very clear during negotiations and in the report that the site would be a neutral, inclusive and constructive place. None of that relates to a shrine. Northern Ireland went through a dreadful period for many years. The Maze is one of the greatest reflections of why we should never go back to that. Thousands of years of people’s lives were lost in that prison. Thousands of lives were lost as a consequence of the actions of people who ended up in that prison. There is something there to tell the rest of the world, and an opportunity to encourage people from across the world that, here in Northern Ireland, we have moved on and moved forward. We can point to what has happened and to the Maze as a symbol of everything that was wrong in Northern Ireland. We can step forward from that, leave it behind, and encourage and incentivise others who may be considering going down the route that Northern Ireland did to desist and resist for their own well-being.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The usual roles in the Chamber have been taken during the debate, but I see this as an opportunity to move the process along. It is perhaps strange that the Ulster Unionists proposed the motion. It did not come through the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, which visited the site on a couple of occasions. Hopefully, the debate will encourage the regeneration of the Maze/Long Kesh site, and we will see movement on the setting up of the corporate body to move things along.
As for the idea of a shrine or there being a romantic attraction to the site, having visited it several times, with families on many occasions, I see no romantic attraction to the Maze/Long Kesh. It is certainly nothing for anyone to look back on with pride, from either those who worked in it or those who were prisoners there. It was a harsh time and it is a harsh site, and there is no romanticism to it. It was a time that, hopefully, we will never return to. If the buildings do anything, they remind people of the harsh reality of what the conflict was about and how it affected so many people’s lives over the years.
Another reminder is the World War II site, because the aircraft hangars are there. The Committee visited the Ulster Aviation Society museum at the site. That is another part of the site that can be developed. It reminds people of the traumas of the world wars. Again, there is no romanticism about that.
There is an opportunity to recognise conflict in various forms, to bring it into perspective, to recognise it, and to recognise some of the achievements of that time. The conflict resolution centre is an opportunity for victims from all sides to tell their stories: from the point of view of prison officers, prisoners, relatives who visited the site, and those who went through traumas in various ways, such as children who visited parents and people who had to trek up and down the road to it.
That is the past, and now is an opportunity in the development of the Long Kesh site to look to and build for the future. There is an opportunity to develop the site and to create a new future and a new beginning for people. It is a massive site — 350 acres — and if it were being handed to anyone at a time of severe economic decline with an opportunity to build on it, they should grasp it with both hands.
We have an opportunity to create a corporate body, which will develop the site and bring economic prosperity to regenerate it and to create opportunities. As far as I understand it, the RUAS is ready and willing to move to the site and expand its remit on it. That will attract other businesses, shows and developments to the site.
The site is ideally situated, in close proximity to the motorway, railway and airport. Therefore, it is an ideal location for development. We should not miss this opportunity and we should not allow it to drag on any further. We need to get the corporate body set up, start putting plans in place and start delivering on people’s vision for the site. Let us not dwell continuously on the past. I am not saying that we should ignore the past or forget it, but we should move on to try to create a better future for the victims of the past. Go raibh maith agat.
It is probably timely that I follow on from the previous Member to speak because I think that he was the first Member to have included the other people who can tell their stories. I am happy to put on record that when the idea was first mooted, I was concerned because the whole emphasis was that the site would be a shrine and that others would never be included in the proposals. However, as the proposals expanded, provision for others to tell their stories was included.
At the start, when the idea grew legs, there was concern from some people in the unionist population that the site would be a shrine, but I thank the First Minister and deputy First Minister and their good offices for including the stories that we are now going to tell for the RUC, the army, prison staff, civilians and the Fire Service. There was a fear that those would not be told, but I am glad that that issue has been addressed. It has allayed my fears.
Another very important issue, which has been touched on today, is that victims are going to get the opportunity to tell their stories. We should never forget the victims. There were prisoners only because there were victims in the first place. The prisoners created the victims, and, equally, the victims should have an opportunity to tell their stories.
As the previous Member who spoke said, we look at the economic climate today and at the size and scale of the site. We have a 350-acre site, and we have an opportunity. Many of us are being lobbied about construction jobs and roads. Indeed, there seems to be an emphasis on it, and many of us received letters today in relation to the A5 to try to encourage more investment in Northern Ireland. We have an excellent opportunity here for a multimillion pound investment. We need to redevelop the site and, therefore, I welcome it from that point of view.
There is also the tourism potential of the site. We should never take away from the opportunity to create a vast array of things there in the future. The other thing that gives me the greatest confidence is that we are not handing the site over to someone to do what they wish with it. OFMDFM will always have full control over the conflict transformation centre. While we have a devolved institution in Northern Ireland, that gives me confidence, and I hope that it will give the wider public confidence that the site will not be left to someone to do as they wish with it; it will be up to the democratic process in the Assembly.
To touch again on the conflict transformation centre, I said that I was sceptical about it at the start, given the troubled past that, unfortunately, we have had in Northern Ireland. However, when I got married 21 years ago, I went to Jersey for my honeymoon, and I remember paying to visit a German underground hospital. Therefore, people in other areas have had the foresight to use what is there to tell a story. There are also other opportunities.
Hopefully, I am spared for many days, and that my family goes on to have a family. I look forward to the day when I can take my grandchildren to the prison and show them what, hopefully, at that stage will still be behind us. I will be able to show them the conditions in which prisoners lived and where some people chose to starve themselves to death for a greater cause.
I can show them where some prisoners decided to go on dirty protests and blanket protests and to live in their own excrement but then moved on and stayed to work under British rule. That says a lot about how we have moved on.
That is our troubled past, and those people brought violence to the streets at the time. However, I must put it on record that it is good to see that people have decided to choose the democratic process as the way forward for Northern Ireland. If that is all part of our history, we must tell that history. I support both our amendment and the SDLP amendment.
I am sure that some of the language and invective that we have heard to date will be of great comfort to the victims and survivors of our Troubles.
I will speak first of an experience that I had as a victims’ commissioner, when I was invited by the Strategic Investment Board to a meeting of interested bodies or stakeholders, if you prefer that word. The meeting was called in the headquarters of the Community Relations Council in Belfast. It was well attended, and SIB said that it wanted us to focus on three questions that afternoon. The first question was: “In principle, is it a good idea to have a conflict transformation centre?”. The second was: “If the answer to the above is yes, what should it look like and what should be in it?”. The third was: “Where should it be located?”. For the next three hours, we had a lively and, at times, heated debate not on the first or second question but solely on the third question.
Much like in football, where there is an ABU — Anyone But United — when it comes to a conflict transformation centre, there is an ABM: Anywhere But the Maze prison. For some, it is the scene of resistance; for others, it is the scene of the crime. Unless we resolve that, we will be making a mistake. Even though we may have agreed it in the past, it is not too late to change our minds.
On the principle of whether we should have a conflict transformation centre, the Ulster Unionists are clear: we are in favour of it. We have a victims’ charter, and, on question one, although we resist having a conflict transformation centre at the Maze, we are very open to having one. On the second question, about the centre’s content, our view is that it should reflect the lack of agreement about everything to do with our conflict.
I thank the Member for his intervention. Perhaps I should have made it clear that I went there to observe the debate and report back to my three colleagues. When the Victims’ Commission was established, although everyone who applied to be commissioner had applied to be the single commissioner, the resolution was to appoint four co-equals as commissioners. Therefore, in business terms, you effectively have an organisation with four co-equal chairs. No one has a casting vote, and no one’s opinion is more important than anyone else’s. Therefore, it would be impossible to go to a public meeting, such as that stakeholder meeting run by the SIB, and offer an opinion without first reporting back and consulting your three colleagues. So, I offered no opinion.
As for the content of a conflict resolution centre, we need one central repository where, as Ms Ruane said, every view can be reflected. We do not agree on anything about our conflict. We do not agree on what happened. We do not agree on why it happened. We do not agree on the language that we use to describe it. We do not even agree on when it began: 40 years ago, 400 years ago, 900 years ago — take your pick.
It is critical that, if we have a conflict resolution centre, we have one central repository. If my colleagues to my left are so tuned into victims, they will know that, if you put it at the Maze, there will not be one central repository. Some groups will split off and do their own thing, and we will lose the value of having a central repository as a conflict resolution centre.
As well as content, we need to think about resource. If we are serious about building peace, we have to look at the fact that we have an uneven playing field. On one side of the fence there are some very good advocates, such as the Pat Finucane Centre, which is reported as doing very good work in helping victims and survivors, for example, in engagement with the Historical Enquiries Team. There is no equivalent on the other side of the fence. If we are to put resource into conflict resolution and peace-building, we must consider giving resource to the likes of Justice for Innocent Victims of the Troubles, bodies that are trying to build up that expertise in advocacy for people from the Protestant, unionist and loyalist community.
I cannot support the SDLP’s amendment. It states that the centre:
“must have due regard to the needs of victims and survivors”.
The biggest mistake you can make in looking at victims and survivors is to view them as a homogenous group who all think the same way and have the same needs. They do not. For many years now, I have been helping somebody — I believe he is a member of the Democratic Unionist Party — who worked in the Maze prison. He policed a riot for three days and took a stroke. He has not had a stroke since but has never been classified as a victim. The medical evidence at the time said that stress did not invoke a stroke. Medical opinion today is divided. Why is he not a victim?
I will close by saying that I support the development of the Maze site, the development of the former army bases and the development of a peace-building centre, but I do not support its establishment at the Maze.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle, Beidh mé ag labhairt ar son an dá leasú agus in éadan an rúin. I will speak in favour of both amendments and against the motion.
It has already been pointed out — to date, I have not heard the Ulster Unionist Party explain why it has changed its opinion on the siting of a transformation centre at the Long Kesh site — that the first panel set up to examine how the site should be used was chaired by David Campbell. Edwin Poots has already said that part of signing off on that particular document was that the four parties represented all had to give their blessing at that time. David Campbell was the chair, and he signed off on it. It was a very clear proposal that there would be a conflict transformation centre at the Long Kesh site. Whatever changed your minds — Mike Nesbitt gave some articulation of that in his presentation — I have not heard anything consistent from the Ulster Unionists as to why they changed their minds.
The only thing that has changed in the intervening years is that the balance of power has shifted within unionism. In my opinion, this is a debate that the Ulster Unionist Party has developed as a result of that shift in balance. I say that because the panel that replaced the consultation panel was the development group. One of the criticisms made of the first panel was that the Alliance Party was not represented, but it was given a place on that development group, which was chaired by Edwin Poots. The Ulster Unionist Party refused, within months of the panel producing its first report, to put a person on that development group and did so right throughout its history. Let us have a bit of honesty and integrity when you are talking about why you changed your mind.
It is also interesting — I say this to everybody who has spoken in the debate — to hear other people telling republicans what they want on that site. They always define it in simple, straightforward terms. I declare an interest as a former political prisoner who served time in Long Kesh and as the chair of Coiste, which is the representation body for political ex-prisoners. We made a presentation to David Campbell’s committee. It is there on the record for people to read. If people go away and read it, then come back with some of the comments that have been made here this morning about what republicans want to see on that site and that corresponds to what they have said here today, I will stand here and make an apology on behalf of republicans. However, I will not be making any apology, because we stated very clearly that what we wanted on the site was recognition of its political and historical significance.
Caitríona Ruane said that history is about everyone telling their story: the people who were in the prison; the people who staffed it; the British soldiers on the watchtowers; and the people who visited the prison, such as the Quakers. All those representative groups should be invited to tell their story. Indeed, victims of the conflict in the North should also be allowed to tell their story. That is what republicans want — nothing more, nothing less. That is what Members should address today instead of pretending that republicans want something else when it is not there to be seen or examined. That is very important.
What else do we want for the site? From the beginning, we have always said that the site should be developed to its maximum potential. I was a member of the development group and read some of the papers from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. Almost every developer or observer who has gone to that site said that it would be foolish to develop it without some recognition of its political and historical significance. There is no controversy about the Crumlin Road prison, Portlaoise prison, Kilmainham jail, Armagh prison or Downpatrick prison. There is a focus, sometimes falsely created, particularly by unionists, on the Long Kesh site. The Long Kesh site existed; it has a history and a political significance.
We have had a wide-ranging debate, and, indeed, some strange things have been said. I was particularly taken by Mike Nesbitt’s attack on the victims’ sector in the unionist community. He said that that none was of any worth compared with the Pat Finucane Centre. When the Member reflects on what he said, having read Hansard, he may well have cause to regret it. Furthermore, the Member does not see the inherent contradiction in saying initially that what unites victims and survivors is the belief that the Maze is the wrong place, but later, when dealing with the SDLP amendment, saying that there is no particular view among victims and survivors and they should not be lumped together. For someone who is, supposedly, the great defender of victims to reject an amendment that talks about having due regard for the needs of victims and survivors seems to be rank hypocrisy, but we have seen that all too frequently from the Ulster Unionist Party in this debate. I will come to that in a moment.
Everyone agrees that work needs to be done on the site. We are in the deepest recession for many years, and the overall scheme for the development of the Maze needs to move ahead. It can provide employment and finance for all our people, which is something to be welcomed and embraced. Previous false starts were mentioned, the obvious one being the national stadium. However, I want to make it clear that I have always had concerns about that, although less about its location and more about whether we could marry all three sports in one stadium. Ultimately, it fell because the economic case did not stack up, and the decision was made on economic grounds. Nevertheless, we put that behind us, and, on the sporting side, we support stadiums and look to move the Maze situation forward.
I will now come to the hub of the motion and the Ulster Unionist Party’s concerns. At that party’s conference, David Campbell, who is not merely a minor member of that party but its chairman, said that we should remember the role of the Ulster Unionist Party, particularly during the peace process. He said that the party had not been given credit for all that it had done. I agree with David Campbell: let us remember its role. Let us specifically remember the role of Mr Campbell, who chaired the Maze consultation panel before Mr Poots, and, indeed, was intimately involved in the matter. It beggars belief that the Ulster Unionists would raise concerns at this stage, when their fingerprints are all over the proposal. If the remarks of Mr Campbell, who is a former Member for Lagan Valley, had been made by someone who would be regarded as a bit more of a loose cannon, such as that party’s current Member for Lagan Valley, one could understand the Ulster Unionist Party trying to distance itself from those remarks. However, the reality is that those remarks were made by its current chairman.
I thank the Member for giving way. Mr Nesbitt is a johnny-come-lately to the Ulster Unionist Party. He had no position a number of years ago, and, before that, he recognised that the Ulster Unionist Party supported the proposal. However, he now says that that was wrong. Does the Member see the obvious conflict between the position of the party chairman and that of one of its new boys in the Assembly?
Indeed, there has been abuse of victims where this issue is concerned. The proposal is not about setting up something for prisoners to celebrate; it is about setting up something to fight the fight for peace in the future and to demonstrate what was wrong with Northern Ireland society. It is not about demonstrating that violence was good.
I could not agree more with the Member. Indeed, if there is to be conflict resolution, perhaps it should start between Mr Nesbitt and Mr Campbell. That may be the most appropriate use of it.
We agree with the SDLP amendment, which effectively subsumes ours. Victims and survivors should be put at the heart of the proposal. In many ways, the Maze is the ideal place for a proposal such as this. We will ensure that there is nothing that glorifies terrorism. Additionally, we need something that reminds us of the bad days and of the evil that people should be warned not to go back to. It is therefore important that there is something that meets that need.
The synthetic concern that the Ulster Unionist Party has produced at this stage does not put victims and survivors at the heart of the proposal. If it is to show proper commitment to victims and survivors, let it join us in the Lobbies supporting the SDLP amendment. Let us speak with one voice in protecting victims and survivors, rather than, like the Ulster Unionist Party, showing false concern about proposals of which it is the genesis. Let us remember the greatest contribution that the Ulster Unionist Party made to the Maze: that was in 1998, when it threw open the prison gates and —
Obviously, that is news to me. I take cognisance of it.
The issue that I start with is that the huge transformation that we have seen in the DUP position is, of course, driven by a philosophy that says, “We must keep Sinn Féin happy if we are to keep our jobs”. A few years ago, the stadium proposition was utterly rejected because it was tainted by the ugly buildings that made up the prison at the Maze and by the fear that they would become a shrine that would brand and taint the entire proposition. The stadium was rejected by many on that basis. Today, however, we have reached the point where not only can the DUP accept the buildings remaining —
It accepts that the buildings can not only remain but be an integral part of the proposition.
If branding and blighting was an issue for the stadium, how much more is it, inevitably, an issue for the conflict resolution centre? If we need a conflict resolution centre, why do we need to put it somewhere where it will be blighted and branded? The answer, of course, is that Sinn Féin will not support it anywhere else. That is why, in the rolling over to the Sinn Féin demand, we have the scenario that it will be agreed that it will be at the Maze. Therefore, it will incorporate the very buildings that will be the shrine and which caused the deputy leader of the DUP to rightly say, “However it is dressed up,” — my oh my, it has been well dressed up today — “whatever spin is deployed,” — the spin that has been deployed today has been dizzying —
“the preservation of a section of the H-Blocks — including the hospital wing — would become a shrine to the terrorists who committed suicide in the Maze in the 1980s. That would be obnoxious to the vast majority of people and is something unionist people cannot accept.”
Nigel Dodds was right then, and he is right now. The Members whose deputy leader he is must, inevitably, be saying that he is wrong. [Interruption.]
I agreed with him entirely when he said that. Was Nigel Dodds wrong? Is he wrong, or was he right? Members on the DUP Benches know in their heart that he was right. Yet, as in so much, for the sake of accepting what Sinn Féin demands, they are prepared to roll over on the issue and to blight and brand a worthwhile project of development at the Maze with this, because they are anticipating the utterly unnecessary retention of the buildings. Three DUP Environment Ministers could have delisted those buildings, had them demolished and neutralised the site. Instead, they kept it contaminated, and keeping it contaminated brands the proposition for a conflict resolution centre and destroys the worth that is in that proposition. If there is a need for one, why does it have to be at the Maze?
Does the Member agree that, given that we have come out of a period of deep violence and conflict, there is a need for some sort of mechanism in our society and some sort of site that can bring about a lasting peace and build confidence and reconciliation in our community? I know that the Member objects to the site at Maze/Long Kesh, but does he accept the concept?
Thank you. I am open to persuasion on the concept of a conflict resolution centre, if that is what it genuinely is and not some mechanism for the rewriting of history. That is why I ask this question: why brand it, why blight it and why damn it by associating it with something that will never deliver the neutrality and the objectivity —
Given that I speak following the remarks of the Member for North Antrim, I will comment on some of his remarks before I come to the substance of the motion.
As I look across the Chamber, the picture that comes into my mind is that of a certain Japanese man. That is not a racist comment, nor is it any reference to the appearance of the Member for North Antrim. I think his name was Hiroo Onoda. He was sent to a Philippine island during the last war to carry out certain acts to disrupt the allies. He stayed in the jungle even after the war was over. Even though they went round the island with loudspeakers to tell him that the war was over, he would not believe it. Even though they dropped leaflets on him, he would not believe it. Twenty-nine years after the war was over, he came out. It seems to me that the Member for North Antrim still has not come to terms with the fact that we have left behind the era in which he seems to be content to mire himself. We are in a new era, trying to move forward.
The Member tries to style himself as the official opposition in the Assembly. He is not an opposition at all in this Assembly; he is the opposition to this Assembly. That is a distinct difference. He is opposed to these structures. He wants to bring them down. He takes on the role of wrecker in this Assembly, and we would be very foolish if we were to pay too much heed to his words or tactics.
The motion is constructed in three parts, as the Member for Lagan Valley suggested. I readily join its proposer in acknowledging the potential social and economic benefits that the development of former military sites across Northern Ireland can bring. More than that, the Executive are actively involved in extracting the full potential from each of those sites. Nowhere is that potential greater than at the Maze site. It is roughly twice the size of the Titanic Quarter, and its strategic location on a number of arterial routes makes the M/LK site a potential catalyst for economic recovery in Northern Ireland. We are determined to ensure that we maximise the potential of that significant site. It not only provides opportunities to bring local social and economic regeneration but can create something of regional and, I believe, national significance. Out of the prison site that in the past was a manifestation of individual, organisational and even societal failure, we want to achieve something new that demonstrates our desire to build a brighter, better and shared future for all.
Nor do I have any resistance to the part of the motion that seeks to see the site developed in a manner that is sensitive to the feelings of victims. The centre will build on the evolving cohesion, sharing and integration policy agenda and contribute to dealing with the legacy of the past, not least in supporting the victims and survivors who suffered during the years of conflict. Its international dimension will help to embed our region more deeply in worldwide peace-building networks. What better outward symbol could there be of our society’s transition to stability and peace? We fully recognise the long-term impact of violence. Victims and survivors are individuals, and, as the Member for Strangford indicated, no single approach will suit them all. I can, however, categorically assure Members that every effort will be made to ensure that the functions and remit of the centre will not be offensive to those who have suffered.
It is the third element of the Ulster Unionist Party motion, which speaks of their concern about the proposal to build this centre at the Maze site, that I find not only interesting but, perhaps, bemusing. I am at a loss to understand the rationale and intention of the Ulster Unionist Party at expressing such concerns, unless, of course, they are repenting. My difficulty in understanding their so-called concern and, indeed, the reference on Saturday at the Ulster Unionist Party conference by the leader to a terrorist shrine at the Maze comes from the fact that the proposal that concerns them is their own proposal. It was not a DUP First Minister and Sinn Féin deputy First Minister who advanced the proposal for a peace-building and conflict resolution centre: we inherited it. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and then First Minister and an SDLP deputy First Minister nominated the chairman and vice-chairman of the panel that brought forward the proposal. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and then First Minister agreed to the outcome of the panel’s report and endorsed it.
It might be worthwhile to look at some elements of the Ulster Unionist Party-led report. It says:
“The ICCT will include the World War 2 structures; one H block; the prison hospital; the administration building and emergency control room; a prison chapel; a section of the prison perimeter wall around Maze cellular; a watchtower; and a cage from Maze compound.”
It was the Ulster Unionist Party-led panel that recommended that the Maze be the site. It was the Ulster Unionist Party-led panel that recommended that there should be an international conflict transformation centre at the Maze. It was the Ulster Unionist Party-led panel that suggested that the listed buildings should be part of that overall centre.
The report goes further:
“the work of the International Centre could be facilitated positively by being located beside the preserved buildings. Since part of the purpose of the Centre would be to acknowledge and learn from the past whilst looking forward to and building for the future, it would be fitting to do so in a setting which played a major role in the conflict.”
“The Panel recommend that the government should protect the structures associated with the International Centre and provide funding to ensure the buildings do not fall into decay … We believe these structures should be given statutory protection and recommend that the Government concludes the formal process of listing as soon as possible.”
The very listing of the structures at the Maze comes from the Ulster Unionist Party-led panel. This is not the proposal of the Democratic Unionist Party or, indeed, of Sinn Féin; it is the baby of the Ulster Unionist Party that it is now trying to drown it and distance itself from it.
My colleagues from Lagan Valley made exceptional speeches and indicated their support. Indeed, I note that the brief history outlined by one Member — he only had time to do it briefly — is such that I gauge that most people in our society would be happy to go along to such a facility to see the history of the army and the prison officers who worked in the Maze. There will be many levels of interest in that site, and I am absolutely determined that there will be no terrorist shrine in the Maze. If it was ever the proposal of the Ulster Unionist Party to have a terrorist shrine — it was that party’s proposal — it will be stopped when it comes to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. That is not just my point of view: when questioned during First Minister and deputy First Minister’s Question Time and when pressed time and time again by Members from the Ulster Unionist Party, the deputy First Minister has repeated over and over again that he has no intention of allowing the site to become a shrine for terrorism.
The leader of Ulster Unionist Party said at his party conference on Saturday:
“We didn’t bring forward proposals for a terrorist shrine at the former Maze prison site.”
If he considers it to be a terrorist shrine, he has to accept that his party brought forward those proposals. It ill becomes him now to arrive in the Chamber and attempt to milk whatever latent form of opposition there might be to a conflict resolution centre at the Maze to see if he can get on that bandwagon. There are few bandwagons left for him to get on.
The Ulster Unionist Party does not come to this debate today with clean hands. The proposals have been approved by the leadership of that party and brought forward by the present chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, who, incidentally, was sitting on the platform while the Ulster Unionist Party leader attacked him for having brought forward proposals in the meantime. I happen to agree with the Member for North Down: we should allow the Ulster Unionist Party to go down there for a free week when the facility is open so that they can try to resolve the conflict that there clearly is within their party.
The Member indicated that it was not the most appropriate site, but the report clearly believes that it is. That report was brought forward by his colleague, his friend, his chairman, Mr David Campbell. He then spoke about the secrecy of the proposal: there is nothing secret about the proposal. The very fact that we are debating it today should indicate that it is far from secret. He mentioned the application. Of course, OFMDFM does not want to jeopardise its application, but we will be happy to sit down and go over the application with him and his deputy chairman, if he wants to bring him along to such a meeting. As far as EU funding is concerned, this is not the pot of money that community groups seek funding from; it is the institutional and structural part of funding. I think that it is measure 2.2 that we are seeking funding from.
The initial overall development focuses on two anchor projects: the proposed peace-building and conflict resolution centre and the anticipated proposal for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society to create a centre of rural excellence at the site. We hope that those two projects will be a catalyst for attracting further investment and thousands of jobs throughout Northern Ireland. Socio-economic conditions, including the potential employment opportunities that will arise, have been at the heart of all of the options, analysis and testing undertaken thus far.
I welcome this opportunity to reinforce our intention that the centre that we are building will be a world-class centre of excellence dedicated to promoting and strengthening peace-building processes and non-violent conflict resolution and prevention, both here in Northern Ireland and around the globe. We want to create a world-leading facility that will provide opportunities for academic research, conferences, educational activity and events examining conflict prevention, resolution and social cohesion issues.
The centre will build on Northern Ireland’s experience, helping to contribute positively to creating a more stable and peaceful world. There is potential for the venue to accommodate temporary and permanent exhibitions from around the world. The benefits of the peace-building and conflict resolution centre are substantial, and, placed in tandem with our proposals for the potential relocation of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society at Maze/Long Kesh, we believe that we are providing the impetus required to attract further investment to the site. Invest Northern Ireland has already recognised that the work of the centre will enhance our regional and international reputation and that this will encourage external investment. The potential for this is significant and could result in the creation of thousands of jobs.
The deputy First Minister and I will retain accountability for the role and functions of the centre, and we are accountable to the House, thereby ensuring that it is used solely for the purposes intended. We believe that, through partnership, the centre will draw together and build on the work of existing local and regional organisations. The outcome of this collective approach will be far more challenging and delivery-focused as a result. I am in no doubt that this will lead to the positive resolution of difficult issues experienced by many victims and survivors of conflict. Let Members stop trying to stir up anxiety and disquiet about this important, beneficial scheme, and put our collective weight behind what can be a truly significant regional development.
Order. The Business Committee has arranged to meet immediately upon the lunchtime suspension. I propose, therefore, by leave of the Assembly to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm. The first item of business for Members when we return will be Question Time.
The debate stood suspended.
The sitting was suspended at 12.39 pm.
On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Dallat] in the Chair) —