Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Maze peace centre plans approved

Former Maze prison buildings, including the hospital block where hunger strikers died, are being retained but will not form part of the peace centre

A controversial peace centre at the site of a former prison for paramilitaries in Northern Ireland has been given the green light by planners.

Stormont's Planning Minister Alex Attwood has granted permission for the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze near Lisburn.

Ten republican prisoners died on hunger strike at the prison in the early 1980s.

Proposals for the facility have been the source of major political discord in the region, with many unionists unhappy that it could become a "shrine to terrorism".

Former prison buildings, including the hospital block where the hunger strikers died, are being retained on the 350-acre site, although they will not form part of the peace centre.

Mr Attwood said: "I have today granted permission for the proposed centre. There is learning to be taken from the conflict here. The centre can contribute to sharing this learning and perhaps to help inform the resolution of conflict in other places."

The Maze housed republican and loyalist paramilitaries for almost 30 years during the Troubles.

It closed in 2000 after prisoners were released en masse under the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998. Ever since there has been fierce debate over what the state-owned site should be turned into.

Plans for a multi-sports stadium for soccer, gaelic football and rugby hit the buffers in the face of unionist opposition.

The Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) has agreed to relocate to the site, where it will host its annual show. The peace centre is being built with an £18 million European Union grant.

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