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Ulster Aviation Society hopes Maze air ambulance deal will end their problems at site

Aviation Society's aims hit by DUP/SF stand-off

By Rebecca Black

Published 18/11/2016

The Maze will be home to new air ambulance
The Maze will be home to new air ambulance

A Maze-based group of aircraft enthusiasts that had to cancel several public events due to the political logjam over the site has said it hopes the impasse can finally be resolved.

The Executive has now made land available there for Northern Ireland's new air ambulance.

The Ulster Aviation Society welcomed the news.

Its chairman Ray Burrows hailed the move as a "very positive step for our health services, for the site's development and for all of Northern Ireland".

He is hopeful that it could lead to the end of a stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Fein that has forced the cancellation of the society's open days.

The dispute arose when the DUP did a U-turn after initially signalling its support for a Sinn Fein-backed Peace Centre on the site of the former Maze Prison.

The society owns a number of vintage aircraft. It attempted to stage open days at its Maze home over the last three years, but was denied permission due to a lack of agreement within the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (now the Executive Office).

"Development has been stalled in recent years, but this decision by the Executive is clear evidence that the parties can and will work together to make exciting things happen at Maze/Long Kesh," Mr Burrows said.

"One of those things is the society's annual open days, which have been stalled at the highest political levels by disagreement between the two governing parties.

"We've had to cancel the event for the past three summers because of that. Hopefully, this agreement on the air ambulance location is an indication that the Executive at Stormont can also agree to solve our annual open days problem."

A spokesman for the Executive said no agreement had been reached on the usage of the Maze site and applications were still being considered on a case by case basis.

"Maze/Long Kesh is a prime site in a key location," he said. "While there is no current agreement on Maze/Long Kesh issues, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will continue to seek a resolution that will see the site developed.

"Applications for access to the site continue to be treated on a case by case basis."

The Executive Office announced yesterday that the site will be made available to host the province's new air ambulance service.

Land for the operation will be leased to the operation.

The site itself comes under the remit of the Executive Office and is administered by the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation.

The air ambulance service will operate both of its helicopters from the location.

The charity behind the service has said it hopes it will be operational by next March.

Agreement on a base, taking account of medical requirements and cost, was a crucial step towards the establishment of the new service.

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, in a joint statement, said they were "delighted to make land at Maze/Long Kesh available".

They added it was "another example of the Executive working together to deliver results that make a real difference".

"We look forward to an accessible air ambulance service becoming operational as soon as possible to help save lives when time is critical," they said.

The campaign to secure the air ambulance service for Northern Ireland has been ongoing for a number of years.

The late Dr John Hinds was among its backers.

He died last year after being fatally injured working as a race medic at the Skerries 100 Road Race in Dublin. His family and friends have been to the fore in the campaign for the air ambulance.

Northern Ireland is currently the only area of the UK without a helicopter emergency medical service.

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