Belfast Telegraph

Maze 'U-turn' divides executive

Stormont's power-sharing executive has been engulfed in a fresh crisis after the Democratic Unionists performed a U-turn and withdrew their support for a contentious peace centre at a former paramilitary prison.

Sinn Fein, the DUP's main partners in the mandatory coalition government, have been left incensed by the shock move, accusing First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson of caving in to hard-line unionist opinion.

Mr Robinson had previously backed the Maze/Long Kesh prison project, despite claims from unionist political rivals, the Orange Order and victims' groups it could become a shrine to terrorism.

Earlier this year he said some of the centre's opponents were indulging in "scaremongering rubbish" and should be "taken away by men in white coats".

The First Minister has insisted the decision to now exercise his party's veto to block the building of the interpretative facility was a consequence of Sinn Fein actions.

He cited the republican party's support of an IRA commemoration parade in Co Tyrone last weekend as an example of a deep disregard for unionist feelings and insensitivity toward the victims of violence.

"Northern Ireland would be a laughing stock across the world if its peace centre was the cause and source of division," Mr Robinson wrote in a letter to party colleagues that revealed the change of heart.

"And there the problem arises. Given the behaviour of Sinn Fein, unionists just do not believe Sinn Fein is committed to creating and maintaining this kind of genuinely neutral shared space at the Maze."

Mr Robinson said his party would not support the multi-million pound EU funded peace and reconciliation centre close to the former jail, where 10 republican paramilitary hunger strikers died during the Troubles, because he claimed there was no consensus on how it would operate.

There has been a long-running debate on how unionist and republican narratives of the conflict could both be incorporated.

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