Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Maze has great story to tell, just like the Titanic

The derelict Maze prison
The derelict Maze prison

Handling the successful development of the Maze site is a major opportunity and challenge to the two big parties, which must do the heavy lifting if it is to work.

A vivid memory of Troubles reporting was a journalistic tour of the Maze, permitted after Mo Mowlam had visited prisoners there in January 1998.

The wings were decked with republican and loyalist regalia, but each had a different ethos.

The IRA section echoed Colditz. The Provisionals' 'OC' (officer commanding) introduced us to his 'command staff', who talked freely about their convictions. One, Harry Maguire, was convicted of the corporals' murders in Belfast.

Martin Mogg, the governor, sat at the back and laughed quietly as the inmates told us that it was his duty to stop them escaping and their duty to keep trying.

That makes a fascinating story. It includes the attacks which the inmates mounted, the struggle for control of the prison wings, as well as the prison officers' attempts to keep them behind bars in the face of threats to their lives.

In contrast to the disciplined atmosphere of the IRA wing, the UDA section we visited had a rock 'n' roll, lads' night out, feel to it.

"Hi, big fella. We'll knock your pan in," Sam 'Skelly' McCrory, right-hand man to Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair shouted to one journalist in mock menace, before slapping him on the back.

Michael Stone, the Milltown murderer, was more earnest and rang me several times afterwards to tell me about events in the prison.

The UVF wing felt more like an Army mess, all spit and polish. Davy McCullough, the OC, wrote an account of 'A Day In The Maze' for me. He was proud that his wing was "the cleanest, because of the discipline we instil in our men".

He explained: "For some younger prisoners, coming onto a UVF wing under UVF rules is a short, sharp shock.

"It depends on the level of the person's involvement with the UVF before they were imprisoned. They may have not spent that much time with other UVF members and under UVF discipline before."

McCullough was arrested by an Army undercover squad minutes after he and his companion, Brian Robinson, murdered a Catholic named Paddy McKenna outside Ardoyne shops. The stolen motorbike from which they carried out the hit was rammed by the troops and one female soldier shot Robinson in the head, killing him. The old Stormont government once wrote to the BBC to get them to pull a Titanic documentary because they felt that highlighting Belfast's role in building a ship that sank showed the province in a bad light.

Now the Titanic – sinking and all – is a magnet for tourists and students. The Maze can be the same, if it is handled properly; this ugly memory can draw visitors who will then take in other attractions on the site.

The Maze pulls together many aspects of the Troubles. Telling all sides of this disputed narrative properly will challenge us.

The lesson it offers us – and the rest of the world – is that such a conflict must be remembered so that it is never repeated.

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