Stalling development of a peace centre at the former paramilitary prison is a mistake that could jeopardise jobs and the peace process, Martin McGuinness has claimed.
Speaking publicly about the issue for the first time, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister launched a stinging attack on the Democratic Unionists' decision to halt the conflict resolution centre at the Maze in Co Antrim.
He said: "It is a mistake not just because it jeopardises much needed investment and jobs, but also for the message it sends to the vast majority of people - nationalist and unionist - who are rock solid behind the peace process. Some in the extremes of political unionism believe that they can unpick the Good Friday Agreement. Moves like this give them succour."
Victims' groups, the Orange Order and DUP political rivals had opposed development of the peace centre over fears it could "glorify terrorism".
Peter Robinson's dramatic U-turn on support for the centre, announced in a letter to DUP representatives, has engulfed the mandatory power-sharing executive at Stormont in a fresh crisis. He blamed Sinn Fein "insensitivity" on issues such as parading and flags, and cited a contentious IRA commemoration parade in Co Tyrone among the reasons for the policy change.
Addressing a memorial parade for veteran republican John Joe McGirl in Balinamore, Martin McGuinness also warned the DUP against caving in to hardline unionists. He claimed most unionists were embarrassed by the antics of thugs who attacked police while draped in the Union flag.
Mr McGuinness said: "Political unionism needs to realise that nothing can be gained by continually feeding the insatiable appetite of those who see life through a red, white and blue prism. They are violently opposed to this process because at the heart of it they are opposed to equality. History is littered with unionist leaders who made this mistake."
The Maze/Long Kesh - the site of the IRA hunger strikes - housed paramilitary prisoners from 1971 to 2000. It closed when inmates from the Troubles were released. A watchtower, H-block cell and prison hospital where Bobby Sands starved to death in a 1981 campaign for political status have been preserved but the DUP has vetoed any future public use of the retained buildings. The Prison Officers' Association has said they should be bulldozed.
During his address Mr McGuinness expressed optimism about forthcoming talks on flags, emblems and dealing with the past to be hosted by US diplomat Richard Haas.
He added: "The Orange State that I grew up in is gone - and most sensible unionists realise that is a good thing - it is time that political unionism woke up to this reality. So the choice for unionism is very clear - come and share power on the basis of equality and real partnership - and when you do that you will find genuine nationalist and republican partners - or pander to rejectionists who abhor equality, fairness and parity of esteem."