Peter Robinson: I have final say on what will be in Maze centre
Peter Robinson has said that any plans for a Troubles exhibition at the former Maze Prison site will have to go through him – and will need his personal seal of approval.
In an article in today's Belfast Telegraph, the First Minister insisted he had a veto over what will be displayed at a controversial conflict resolution centre to be built there.
The centre, which was granted planning permission last week, has been branded a "terrorist shrine" by hardline unionists.
Ten men starved to death at the prison during the 1981 republican hunger strikes. They included IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, who had been elected MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone.
But the DUP leader said it would instead be an "international beacon" celebrating the victory of peace over violence.
"Anyone stating what a possible exhibition will comprise is making it up – no such exhibition exists nor is there any agreement as to the content of any exhibition," Mr Robinson said.
In a bid to ease tensions over the long-delayed development, Mr Robinson said: "I will not agree to any shrine or glorification of terrorism on the site.
"All decisions in relation to the content of an exhibition, if there is to be one – as well as access to the listed buildings and marketing of the site – will have to be agreed by me."
The First Minister's attempt to reassure unionists came as his political opponents launched a petition yesterday calling for the prison buildings – including the H-block cells and hospital where hunger strikers like Bobby Sands died – to be delisted and demolished.
In a joint statement, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, TUV leader Jim Allister and Ukip's David McNarry said: "The Maze site is the wrong location for a 'Peace Centre' where the whole focus will be on the prison and what happened within its walls.
"The DUP and Sinn Fein should move the centre to another site so that the Maze redevelopment can go ahead unhindered by the toxic legacy of our past."
At a Press conference in Stormont, the group said there was significant opposition to the plan, including from the RUC George Cross Association and the Prison Officers' Association.
"It is time for the DUP and Sinn Fein to start listening to the innocent victims of terrorism," the unionist group said.
Mr Robinson, however, accused the UUP of "sheer hypocrisy" as he continued to oppose the listing of the Maze buildings – which was agreed to by former UUP chairman David Campbell when it was the largest unionist party in the Assembly.
"People need to examine the facts, challenge the inaccurate assertions of these people and look at the motivations of those who oppose this development," Mr Robinson added.
"The centre will be a testimony to peace, not conflict. It is a celebration of politics over violence and will be an international beacon to urge other countries and regions to find solutions to their divisions."
But Mr Nesbitt hit back: "We'll take no lectures from the party of 'never, never, never, never' on hypocrisy. We are for the centre, in principle, but not at the Maze.
"Whether he likes it or not, Peter Robinson is facing a growing tide of resistance to siting the centre there."
Mr Allister added: "Whatever spin is deployed, the preservation of a section of the H-blocks – including the hospital wing – would become a shrine to the terrorists who committed suicide in the Maze in the 1980s.
"That would be obnoxious to the vast majority of people and is something unionist people cannot accept."