Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Peace centre investment 'justified'

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said the taxpayer faces an annual £650,000 bill if the development at the former Maze prison hits its target
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said the taxpayer faces an annual £650,000 bill if the development at the former Maze prison hits its target

The conflict resolution centre at the Maze in Northern Ireland should be financially sustainable once it is fully operational, the Government department responsible for the project has said.

Organisations delivering peace-building programmes and visitors are expected to generate income after an initial bedding-in period, a spokeswoman for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) added.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said previously the taxpayer faced an annual £650,000 bill if the development at the former prison site near Lisburn hit its target, despite predictions of more than 100,000 visitors a year.

The OFMDFM spokeswoman said: "It is the ministers' intention that the centre will be fully sustainable when fully operational, however this will require initial investment."

The department expects 5,000 jobs to be created and £300 million private sector investment to be attracted to the Maze/Long Kesh site. The spokeswoman said the peace centre could support 70 jobs and generate approximately £1 million a year from visitor income and employment.

The Maze prison held some of Northern Ireland's most dangerous inmates and was the site of the republican hunger strikes. By 2000, all prisoners had left, but what happened to the 370 acres of land has become a contentious issue. While much of it was intended for other uses, with the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) due to hold its show there, for years unionists and nationalists have disagreed over whether a peace and reconciliation centre should be included.

The predicted £650,000 bill was outlined to Mr Nesbitt by the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation which is overseeing the project. Mr Nesbitt asked why the OFMDFM would go ahead with a project they knew would not pay for itself, branding the move "madness".

The OFMDFM spokeswoman said the business case prepared in 2010 anticipated the centre generating income after its start-up period, adding it was best practice to try and project what additional support may be required.

Significant work is under way to develop the programme and income-generating aspects of the centre. "The level of departmental funding for the start-up period is fully justified by the contribution the centre will make and the services it will deliver both locally and internationally," she said.

The build cost will be fully funded by EU Peace III money and possibly with additional Heritage Lottery money.

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