McGuinness backs Maze peace centre
Martin McGuinness has rejected a claim that a proposed peace centre at the former Maze prison centre is dead in the water.
Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend questioned if a centre would ever be built on the site near Lisburn and asked Stormont's Deputy First Minister if another location was being considered.
The proposed construction of a landmark building focused on peace-building and reconciliation has been mired in controversy, with the project deadlocked amid a bitter impasse between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
The proposal to redevelop the former paramilitary prison site, which is owned by the Executive, was envisaged in the Sinn Fein and DUP-agreed Programme for Government but it was torpedoed in 2013 when the unionists withdrew their support.
Justifying the move, First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said he was responding to victims' concerns about the potential of a centre at the former prison being turned into a "terrorist shrine".
Responding to Mrs Overend's assertion that a centre at the Maze was "dead in the water", Mr McGuinness told Assembly Question Time: "That isn't something I recognise. I have a very clear view that whenever we make commitments that we keep the commitments."
He pointed to development that had already taken place on the wider site, with the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) relocating there.
He said the Executive had made a commitment to the RUAS that its move would be accompanied by the development of the peace centre.
"What we have to do is continue with our discussions and see if we can find a way forward," he told Mrs Overend.
"I am very determined to find a way forward and I hope those people who opposed the project in the first instance, including the member's own party, would recognise the opportunities that the construction of a peace building and conflict resolution centre can provide for the whole purposes of reconciliation and peace-making between all of us."
He added: "I do believe a great opportunity is being missed at Maze/Long Kesh and I believe also we are all all the poorer for that.
"We need to recognise the importance of the prison buildings, the peace building and conflict resolution centre, the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society and of course all of the other very exciting developments that were mooted several years ago in relation to the overall development of the site.
"So let's continue to work at it and hope those people who tried to make the argument that it would be a shrine to something other than reconciliation and peace-making would see the error of their ways."
TUV leader Jim Allister asked Mr McGuinness why the Executive continued to pay the chairman of the Maze development corporation £30,000 a year while the peace centre plans remained stalled.
The Sinn Fein MLA said it was important to keep a board and chairman in place while efforts continued to progress the development.