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'Sinn Fein stubbornness grounds Maze aviation open day'

By Rebecca Black

Published 10/09/2016

Cancellation: Ray Burrows of the UAS
Cancellation: Ray Burrows of the UAS

The Ulster Aviation society (UAS) has been forced to cancel an open day at its Maze site this weekend because of a lack of agreement at Stormont.

The UAS had planned to open up its spectacular collection of planes and replica aircraft to the public this weekend as part of the European Heritage Open Days series.

The event was even advertised as part of a programme of attractions for this Saturday and Sunday - described as a World War Two hangar complex containing Ireland's largest aviation heritage collection. However, a spokesman for the society confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that the event had to be cancelled because of a lack of approval from Stormont, which oversees the site of the former Maze jail.

This is the third time in as many years that the society has been forced to cancel a planned open day.

The use of the site requires approval from Stormont by both First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

However, it is understood that Sinn Fein refused to support the events at the Maze in response to the DUP's opposition to a peace and conflict transformation centre at the location.

Last August, the UAS had planned to hold a two-day open event it estimated would have drawn in 7,000 visitors.

In August 2014, the UAS was also refused permission to hold an open day by Stormont.

A DUP spokesman confirmed that former First Minister Peter Robinson approved the society's open days on both years.

A spokesperson for the Executive Office said: "There is no current agreement on the use of the Maze-Long Kesh site. Requests for access to the site are considered on a case by case basis."

The society claimed that it had been able to hold open days in 2011, 2012 and 2013 without any problems.

UAS chairman Ray Burrows previously said that such open day events at their section of location, which was once an RAF base, brought in between 30% and 40% of the society's income, and without that money their activities would be curbed.

He added that Sinn Fein representatives had made it clear that because the centre development plans had been stopped, there would be no development on the site whatsoever.

The former prison was closed in 2000 after the bulk of its terrorist prisoners were released under the terms of the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

In 2006, the Government even unveiled a masterplan for the site, which included a 45,000-capacity national multi-sport stadium for football, rugby and Gaelic games, and demolition work started in preparation for construction at the location.

However, there was a failure to agree among political parties, with Sinn Fein insisting a peace and conflict transformation centre must be part of the plans or they would not support them. Unionists were sceptical of what form this could take.

The former prison hospital - where 10 republican inmates died on hunger strike in 1981 and 1982 - and part of the H-block structures have been listed for historical preservation. Many fear these could become a shrine for IRA terrorists.

The only successful development of the enormous Maze site has been the relocation of the Balmoral Show from Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph

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