Republicans don't want Maze shrine: McGuinness
Published 03/11/2008 | 22:40
Plans to save one of the Maze prison's infamous H-Blocks should not be used to create a shrine to republicans, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said today.
The senior Sinn Fein figure defended plans to create an International Centre for Conflict Transformation (ICCT) at the site, despite unionist fears it would be used to promote republicanism.
The prison is closely associated with the images of the 1981 hunger strike when 10 republicans died after years of prison protests demanding political status.
One of the H-Blocks, the prison hospital and cells which held loyalists are among buildings that have been listed for preservation as part of a wider plan to create a centre where the lessons of the peace process can be passed on to an international audience.
Today, Mr McGuinness addressed unionist concerns over the Maze/Long Kesh site and said: "I don't know anybody who has argued for a shrine at Long Kesh.
"I have heard people from the unionist persuasion articulating that that's what republicans want. But let me state here and now, that is not what republicans want."
In 1976, the Government phased out the special category status of paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland in a move aimed at treating them in the same fashion as ordinary criminals.
Republicans refused to wear prison uniforms and remained naked except for blankets, before later launching the dirty protest that saw them refuse to slop out cells.
Unionists have said the protests and the eventual hunger strike would be immortalised by the creation of the ICCT.
In the Northern Ireland Assembly today, Ulster Unionist David McClarty called for the delisting and demolition of the remaining buildings.
The Democratic Unionist Party's Nelson McCausland also said students associated with Sinn Fein had visited the site and recorded the experience on a website hailing the legacy of the hunger strikers.
He asked Mr McGuinness: "Would he agree with me that with words such as 'homage' and 'inspiration', it is clear that members of his party already regard the H-Blocks as a republican shrine?"
Mr McGuinness said the proposed ICCT had already secured European Union support and would house conference facilities, political research, summer schools and exhibitions aimed at encouraging peace building around the globe.
He said he was unaware of the students' comments and added: "No doubt people will record their own individual experiences when they go there, but the important thing for me is that we don't have a shrine at the Long Kesh site.
"What we want is a meaningful centre for conflict transformation where people from other parts of the world, can come, can learn from our experiences and in doing that also bring enormous benefits to ourselves in the north.
"Because I think such a centre would be a massive focus for international attention and bring more and more visits to this part of our island."
Mr McGuinness said he and unionist politicians had visited areas such as Sri Lanka and Iraq to share the lessons of the Irish peace process.
He said: "I want a viable meaningful centre which will contribute to world peace, not a shrine to anybody.
"If anything, what will happen at the site has to be a shrine to peace building, not just here in the north of Ireland, but in the world."