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Maze breakout movie will turn IRA terrorists into heroes, claim angry unionists

By Cate McCurry

Published 07/04/2016

Soldiers outside the Maze Prison after 38 republican inmates escaped in 1983
Soldiers outside the Maze Prison after 38 republican inmates escaped in 1983
Brian Stack
Austin Stack

Unionists have blasted a planned film based on the Maze Prison escape, claiming that IRA inmates will be portrayed as "heroes".

Thirty-eight inmates fled the maximum security facility in 1983 in the biggest jail breakout ever in the UK or Ireland.

A soldier vaults his way into a garden near the M1 as a large-scale search operation gets under way for the Maze escapees
A soldier vaults his way into a garden near the M1 as a large-scale search operation gets under way for the Maze escapees
The food lorry at the centre of the breakout
Gerry Kelly in 1983
The Maze Prison where Gerry Kelly escaped from in 1983

Nineteen were recaptured in a few days, but the rest got away.

Warder James Ferris died of a heart attack after being stabbed. Two other warders were shot but survived.

The escapees included Old Bailey bomber Gerry Kelly, now a Sinn Fein MLA, who went on to write a book about the escape.

The DUP's Paul Givan accused film-makers of attempting to "romanticise the violence" of the mass breakout.

It has emerged that an old prison in the Republic is being used as a site to shoot the movie.

The Irish-Swedish co-production is being funded by the Irish Film Board (IFB), Film Vast and RTE, with Cork County Council and Cork County Council Arts Offices providing regional support.

It is being shot over a four-week period this month in the recently decommissioned Cork Prison and around Cork city and stars Irish actors Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Barry Ward.

The movie has been described as "an exciting prison break story" by James Hickey of the IFB.

Gerry Kelly in 1983
Gerry Kelly in 1983
A soldier vaults his way into a garden near the M1 as a large-scale search operation gets under way for the Maze escapees
The food lorry at the centre of the breakout
The Maze Prison where Gerry Kelly escaped from in 1983

However, Mr Givan hit out, saying that it will rub "salt into wounds" of the victims.

"When Gerry Kelly authored the book on which this film is based it was clear there was no regard to either victims or to reconciliation. The advert for the launch of the book encouraged people to come along and listen to the lighter side of the 1983 H-Block breakout," he said.

"There is no lighter side to the breakout for the family of James Ferris, who died following the escape, or those prison officers who were shot, stabbed or beaten. The producer of the film has talked about the 'big draw' of prison escape films like The Shawshank Redemption and Cool Hand Luke.

"With comments like that, it is abundantly clear that not only will the violence of the escape be romanticised, but the terrorists who perpetrated it will clearly be portrayed as the heroes of the piece. Witnessing a Gerry Kelly vanity project on the big screen can only rub salt into wounds which are still fresh."

The mass escape was described at the time by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as "the greatest incident in British prison history".

The son of an IRA victim has also criticised the Irish Government for allowing the jail to be used as the filming site.

Austin Stack, son of murdered Chief Prison Officer Brian Stack, said he was "sickened to the core" that the Irish Prison Service would be involved in such a project.

Kenny Donaldson of campaign group Innocent Victims United backed Mr Stack's call for the Minister of Justice to intervene.

He said: "We have today written to the RoI's Minister of Justice to plead with her to do the right thing and step in to halt State acquiescence with a project which will have the impact of glamorising terrorism.

"Those involved in the Maze Prison break were convicted terrorists and many of them once they escaped went on to commit further acts of terror against their neighbours.

"The Justice Minister must do right by the Stack family and all other Prison Service officers who have endured physical and psychological injury as a consequence of terrorism."

Sinn Fein was asked for a comment, but said it wouldn't comment on a film it hadn't seen.

Belfast Telegraph

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