Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Aviation Society ban hurting Northern Ireland public: Turbulence at Stormont hits plane charity

By Amanda Ferguson

The Ulster Aviation Society has once again found itself the victim of political squabbling after learning its Maze-Long Kesh base will no longer be included in Northern Ireland’s European Heritage Open Days later this month.

More than 400 EHOD events will be held over September 13 and 14 but the public will be denied access to the UAS hangars outside Lisburn which are full of historic aircraft —including a replica of a Spitfire part funded by Belfast Telegraph readers based on similar aircraft built through an appeal by the paper during the Second World War.

UAS chairman Ray Burrows said the political row between Northern Ireland’s two biggest parties has now resulted in the charity losing around 50% of its annual income.

Last month two UAS annual open days, organised to generate funds for the charity, had to be cancelled because of a row between the DUP and Sinn Fein over the development of the former prison site.

The UAS had to withdraw public access for the event after it did not get approval from the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).

Sinn Fein blocked the August event after DUP halted plans to build a peace centre as part of the development of the site outside Lisburn last August.

At the time Sinn Fein MLA Caitriona Ruane said the 2014 UAS open days could proceed if the DUP agreed to reopen access to the historic prison building.

As this did not happen more than 5,000 expected visitors were left disappointed and the charity missed out on a much-needed funding boost.

A furious Mr Burrows told the Belfast Telegraph it is deeply unfair the public is being punished.

“It is with much regret that we have to inform you that as yet we have not received permission from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to open our facilities for the upcoming European Heritage Open Days (EHOD),” he said. “And it looks highly probable that, once again, we will not be able to open our doors to the public.

“We feel duty bound to make this announcement now so that our supporters — in particular the general public — can prepare to make alternative arrangements for the EHOD weekend.”

He added: “We appreciate that the booklets are already circulating where our entry has been listed. We are updating our website

to let everyone know of this news.”

A statement from the UAS said closure of the hangar to the public, along with its unique collection of around 25 aircraft plus numerous exhibits and artefacts, will be another “huge disappointment”.

The collection has been open to the public in recent years and has proved to be a big draw for aviation enthusiasts.

Mr Burrows is also furious that Stormont Castle is among this year’s venues for EHOD 2014.

“It’s a bit rich,” he said.

“The public has access to the place these people work in but they can’t visit somewhere they should have access to.

“I would estimate we have lost 50% of our income this year because of the ongoing row but really it is the public ultimately losing out.”

Factfile

UAS’s EHOD plan:

“Saturday 13 and Sunday 14, 12:30pm-5pm. Tours at 1pm and 3pm, for about an hour. A collection of locally relevant historic aircraft displayed in an original WW2 type T2 hangar, originally used for building Stirling bombers. Listed historic building. To coincide with Battle of Britain weekend, we will feature our MK2 Spitfire full-size replica. Visit www.ulsteraviationsociety.org”

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph