Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Maze row: Unionist leaders at loggerheads over peace centre plans

DUP leader Peter Robinson
DUP leader Peter Robinson

The war of words between the two main unionist leaders over the Maze peace centre has stepped up a gear, with the First Minister accusing the UUP's Mike Nesbitt of failing to raise objections to the plans when he was a Victims Commissioner.

Peter Robinson was responding to an open letter from Mr Nesbitt in which the Ulster Unionist chief asked why the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre (PBCRC) needs to be built at the Maze site at all.

The Strangford MLA argued the only pro-union organisation which shares the DUP's backing for the centre is the UDA and its political advisers in the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG).

In his letter Mr Nesbitt said he supported a peace centre in principle. But he questioned why it had to be built at the sensitive location of the former Troubles-era prison. Mr Nesbitt also claimed Education Minister John O'Dowd was considering using his Department's social media networks to generate interest among schools about the Maze, and developing educational support materials for the classroom.

He added: "I note the response to a Freedom of Information request that engagement with ex-prisoner groups far exceeded consultation with victims and survivors, eg ex-prisoner groups had been consulted no fewer than nine times before any engagement with the Commission for Victims and Survivors NI. As ever the question is simply, why?"

Last night, Mr Robinson hit back in a letter of his own. In a strongly-worded attack, he stated: "As an act of kindness I have refrained until now from revealing that you were directly consulted in your capacity as a Victims Commissioner and made no objection on any of these matters."

The DUP chief said that prior to the formal consultation, Mr Nesbitt – a Commissioner for Victims and Survivors at the time – attended a preliminary meeting in relation to the proposed location, use and content of a Conflict Resolution and Peace Building Centre at the Maze.

"My officials inform me that you offered no opinion or view on any of these three key issues. Furthermore you failed to express even after this meeting your advice or view on any of these matters relating to the Maze when acting as an advocate for victims and survivors as their Commissioner. As ever, Mike, the question is simply why?"

QUOTES

"It is strange that when you had a statutory responsibility to speak for victims you were silent on this issue but now for party political purposes you seek to exploit the fears of victims."

Peter Robinson writes to Mike Nesbitt

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