Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Nesbitt to offer an alternative site for Maze peace centre

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt chats with Armagh councillor Joy Rollston

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt will today suggest a new location for the collapsed Peace and Reconciliation Centre.

He is to tell his party's annual conference that a more non-contentious site could resolve the on-going face-off between the DUP and Sinn Fein over the project at the former Maze prison.

But even before Mr Nesbitt revealed his alternative – with sources denying it is the old Crumlin Road Courthouse – Sinn Fein dismissed the proposal.

"It is not something we would be prepared to look at," a spokesman said.

In his keynote address this afternoon, Mr Nesbitt intends to tie the DUP's decision to back away from its deal with Sinn Fein on the centre at the Maze – jeopardising the development of the entire site, which promised some 5,000 jobs – to his theme of responsibility in the Stormont administration.

The UUP chief is set to point to some recent controversies on the Executive – including Health Minister Edwin Poots's climbdown on the closure of senior citizens' homes and the ban on blood donations from gays – as examples of a lack of responsibility.

Mr Nesbitt is expected to say: "Victims and survivors want hope, we all want hope, we want fair government and we want responsible government.

"That's not what we are seeing from the Sinn Fein DUP carve-up at the heart of government.

"There is nothing responsible about reducing 80 year olds to tears because they think they are about to be thrown out of care homes."

He is also to target Education Minister John O'Dowd's draft proposals on schools funding, amid fears the changes will mean a reduction in their budgets for around 80% of schools to divert resources to deprived communities.

The UUP chief is also expected to attack First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness's attempted 'power grab' over the SDLP's Environment Minister by taking control of economic planning powers.

Referring to his own plans for a private members bill on changing the defamation laws, the UUP boss is also expected to accuse the DUP and Sinn Fein of ignoring the defamation act that protects freedom of speech.

Mr Nesbitt is to say the exercise of power means taking and accepting responsibility, rather than simply shifting blame.

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