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Stand-off means Ulster Aviation Society open day is axed for second year

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 05/08/2015

The Ulster Aviation Society’s chairman, Ray Burrows, in the society’s museum
The Ulster Aviation Society’s chairman, Ray Burrows, in the society’s museum
Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney

The Ulster Aviation Society has become the victim of a political row between the DUP and Sinn Fein for a second year its chairman has claimed.

Ray Burrows says that his non-political educational charity is being "held to ransom" in a continuing power spat between the two leading political parties.

Its plan to hold an open day event on the Maze prison site later this month has been blocked once more by a refusal from Sinn Fein to agree to the event.

This comes as a direct result of group visits to the Maze/Long Kesh site being stopped since First Minister Peter Robinson's letter from America last summer when he announced that the site would not be developed as a peace and reconciliation centre.

The UAS event in August 2014 was cancelled because of the row between the DUP and Sinn Fein. The use of the site requires permission from the First and deputy First Ministers. At the time, the DUP said it was blocked by Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

Last night an angry Mr Burrows said: "We went to meet junior minister Jennifer McCann at the end of June and thought we could talk her into allowing us to have our two days this year. Sadly there was no movement on that front whatsoever. The conversation always came around to the line, 'if we get our group prison visits reinstated, then you can have your open day'.

'There should be no link between our open days and the issue of the ending of the visits and this is what angers us. We are basically being held to ransom."

The UAS has decided to cancel its planned two-day event over the weekend of August 22-23.

The cancellation means a 40% cut in the potential income that the society requires to run its activities.

"We attracted 5,000 visitors in our 2013 open day and thought by extending it over two days we could increase that to 7,000," Mr Burrows said.

"Then there was the decision that there would be no peace and reconciliation development, then Sinn Fein adopted this stance that nothing would take place at the Maze/Long Kesh.

"They stopped everyone visiting the prison - republicans, loyalists and tourists,

He added: "I reckon if a cruise ship came in and there was a visit to the Maze/Long Kesh/H Block, the buses would be filled."

Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney said the lack of progress on the redevelopment of the Long Kesh site is a result of the DUP reneging on a commitment. He added: "There was an agreement on the redevelopment and use of the entire Maze/Long Kesh site which would have opened up its enormous potential in terms of job creation and economic development."

An OFMDFM spokesperson said: "There is no current agreement on the development of Maze/Long Kesh."

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