Belfast Telegraph

Unionists clash over Maze plan

By Noel McAdam

First Minister Peter Robinson and unionist hardliner Jim Allister have bitterly clashed in the Assembly over plans for a peace centre at the former Maze site.

The DUP leader compared his former colleague to a Japanese soldier who had forgotten the Second World War is over and called him a "wrecker".

But the Traditional Unionist Voice leader claimed his ex-colleagues had transformed into a party driven by the philosophy: 'we must keep Sinn Fein happy if we are to keep our jobs'.

He said while they had rejected the peace centre as a 'terrorist shrine' a few years ago the DUP now accepted the proposal as an integral part of plans for the former prison.

And he quoted DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds who warned preservation of a section of the H-Blocks would become a shrine to the hunger strikers which "would be obnoxious to the vast majority of people and is something unionist people cannot accept".

"Nigel Dodds was right then and he is right now," he added.

"Members on the DUP benches know in their hearts that he was right. Three separate DUP environment ministers could have delisted the buildings, had them demolished and neutralised the site."

Insisting he was not being racist or personal, Mr Robinson immediately rounded on his ex-ally who he said reminded him of Hiroo Onoda, who was sent to a Philippine island during the Second World War and stayed in the jungle even after the war was over.

"Even though they went round the island with loudspeakers to tell him that the war was over, he would not believe it," he said.

"Even though they dropped leaflets on him, he would not believe it. Twenty-nine years after the war was over, he came out.

"It seems to me that the member for North Antrim still has not come to terms with the fact that we have left behind the era in which he seems to be content to mire himself. We are in a new era, trying to move forward.

"The member tries to style himself as the official opposition in the Assembly. He is not an opposition at all in this Assembly; he is the opposition to this Assembly, and that is a distinct difference."

Factfile

A battle over the redevelopment of the former Maze site has raged since it was closed in 2000.

Initially a task force drew up a plan which included a 38,000-seat sports stadium and a 'conflict resolution centre'.

The inclusion of the former H-Blocks was a major sticking point for unionists.

Finally, two years ago, then Sports Minister Gregory Campbell dropped the stadium plans.

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