Belfast Telegraph

Prison officers want former site bulldozed as talks over centre stall

BY MICHAEL McHUGH

Prison officers have called for the former Maze jail to be bulldozed after proposals to build a peace centre there stalled.

The Maze/Long Kesh – famously the site of the IRA hunger strikes – closed in 2000 when inmates from the Troubles were released but unionists and nationalists this week renewed long-standing divisions over what to do with it after initially reaching a consensus.

First Minister Peter Robinson did a massive U-turn on support for the reconciliation centre amid victims' fears the violence of 30 years could be glorified.

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 Prison Officers' Association (POA) chairman Finlay Spratt said they should be razed to the ground.

"From the day the Maze closed in 2000, the Prison Officers' Association's view was that it should be bulldozed, the whole site, and turned over to public use," he said.

"H2 is not a historic building, the administration block is not a historic building."

Apart from 10 dead hunger strikers, well-known past inmates at the Maze included Billy Wright, who led a loyalist splinter group blamed for a string of sectarian killings. Prominent Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly famously escaped from the jail in 1983 following his conviction for bombing the Old Bailey.

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

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