Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Stormont turbulence hits plane enthusiasts: Ulster Aviation Society can consider itself collateral damage

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The Ulster Aviation Society can consider itself collateral damage – an unwitting pawn in the middle of an increasingly bitter political row.

It is almost exactly a year since Peter Robinson pulled the plug on the peace centre at the Maze, a move that the UAS had no idea would scupper its plans for a two-day show this summer.

Since Sinn Fein's response to the reversal was to freeze the prospect of all other fresh developments at the site, the political fallout continues and the show has been cancelled.

Thus the two-day extravaganza envisaged by the UAS is to that extent merely the latest casualty of a bigger battle.

It is a completely non-political organisation, which is run by volunteers who are passionate about educating the public about all things aviation.

The last thing the society wanted was to get caught up in the turbulence of Stormont.

And the loss of the two-day aircraft show also flies in the face of what Sinn Fein and the DUP say they want to achieve – attracting major events here and improving the image of the province.

But the impact is about so much more than the loss of an exciting weekend for an estimated 8,000 visitors.

The row between the two main power-sharing partners once again exemplifies the continual paralysis that they seem to produce, and further underpins the view of Stormont as a dysfunctional place for petty point-scoring.

Over recent months Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he had not given up on the peace centre project and there were some behind-the-scenes discussions – but the stand-off remains.

Sinn Fein is entitled to feel aggrieved that a hard-won agreement it negotiated came unstuck.

While he would not himself have chosen the former prison site, Peter Robinson had insisted his party held a veto on development of the centre, which would not become a shrine or "glorify terrorism". He did welch on the deal.

But now Sinn Fein has made clear that with the centre being blocked, there will be no other development on the site either – despite the potential for jobs and major tourism events.

That is hardly justified and leaves both parties open to the accusation that they are failing to deliver on their own Programme for Government commitment – developing "Maze/Long Kesh as a regeneration site of regional significance".

One key aspect of that development was the peace centre, which Mr Robinson had once described as an "international beacon" to the victory of peace over violence.

Now, instead, it is a symbol of Stormont stalemate.

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