A former loyalist prisoner has said his own community can stop the Conflict Transformation Centre planned for the Maze from becoming an IRA shrine by involving itself in the project.
William ‘Plum’ Smith who was held in the Long Kesh compounds during the 1970s, is researching and writing a book on his prison experience.
The former Red Hand Commando prisoner — convicted of the attempted murder of a Catholic man — later chaired the 1994 loyalist ceasefire news conference and was part of the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement.
“What Protestants and loyalists need to do is get fully engaged in every aspect of the planning and shaping of the Conflict Transformation Centre,” Smith said.
“The only way it will be a shrine is if the Protestant community allows it to be.’’
Smith, who works for the Shankill-based EPIC project, an ex-prisoners’ centre, was speaking after unionist politicians and Protestant victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer attended a protest at the former prison site on Thursday.
The Maze is remembered for the blanket and dirty protests and the hunger strike during which 10 republicans died.
Smith told the Belfast Telegraph: “Everybody has got a story to tell about Maze/Long Kesh — prison officers, doctors, delivery people, loyalists, republicans, fire officers.
“And if everybody tells their story then no one side can turn it into a shrine for its own purpose.’’
Smith’s book will focus primarily on the loyalist Long Kesh story of the 1970s and the influence of the then prisoner leader Gusty Spence, who died last year.