Republicans have reacted with anger after Environment Minister Sammy Wilson confirmed he is investigating the possibility of stripping buildings in the former Maze Prison of protected architectural status.
It comes amid unionist calls for the former prison buildings to be “de-listed” and bulldozed, instead of being redeveloped into a “conflict transformation centre” as proposed by republicans.
Among the buildings listed in 2005 were the multi-denominational chapel, parts of the perimeter walls, the hospital and H Block 6, where LVF leader Billy Wright was being housed at the time of his murder.
Responding to a written Assembly question put by the UUP’s David McNarry, Mr Wilson said the listing of the buildings had been reviewed and they were found to meet the legislative test of being of special architectural or historical interest.
“However, following previous concerns on this issue, I have already asked the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to carry out a further review of the listing and potential for delisting on this site. I would expect that this will be carried out in due course,” the DUP minister said.
Sinn Fein MLA Paul Butler, who put in the original request to have the buildings listed, said they had gone through the statutory process and were of historical and political significance.
“We would be opposed to the delisting of the buildings, same as we would be to any listed buildings being delisted.
Unionists should stop this campaign,” he said. “The conflict resolution centre is part of the masterplan for the site along with the stadium.
“The European Parliament has said there should be some centre for conflict resolution where a lot of people can learn how the peace process here can be successful.
“It would be a huge boost for the political process and the economy as well, as it would attract visitors from all over the world.”
Mr McNarry welcomed the news that more work would be carried out on the potential for delisting, insisting there was no longer a reason to keep the buildings now that a national stadium on the site has been ruled out.
“That listing was approved in a deal with Sinn Fein and the government. What I am saying is that the deal is long past. It was for a site for the Maze National Stadium,” he said.
“We’re not now going to have a stadium so there is no necessity to have those buildings listed and the minister has the power to delist them. Once he takes that decision, they should be bulldozed and demolished.
“He should delist those buildings and they should be demolished instead of being turned into what I would call a terrorist shrine.
“I think this conflict transformation centre will only maintain divisions in our community and will be a continual reference for republicans to be holding memorial services and all sorts of in-your-face republicanism, which we could do without.”
“If such a centre had been in place when the weekend shootings had happened, people would be inclined to go there with pickaxes and demolish it themselves,” Mr McNarry said.
Mr Wilson said decisions to list structures at the Maze were taken after a detailed examination and consideration of the architectural and historic significance of the buildings was carried out.
“The process of assessment for this site followed on from the assessment of Ebrington Barracks in Londonderry, a similar complex site, and follows best practice,” he said.
“A holistic assessment was made of the entire site before individual buildings were identified and researched in more detail.”
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said he would be shocked if any minister in the Executive thought it would be a good idea to de-list the buildings, describing the jail as a “project of international importance”.
“It would run totally contrary to everything that we are trying to do in terms of attracting people to our country to learn from what is clearly a whole new experience for us,” he said.