Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Why political posturing is costing us a fortune

Time is money: the dithering over a consensus for the former Maze prison cost the public purse

Unionist protests are mooted, but the truth is that the DUP has outfoxed its critics on the Maze/Long Kesh site (or ‘MLK’, as it has become known in civil service-speak).

It was an expensive mistake taking so long to make up their mind, but more of that later.

Jim Allister, of the TUV, once said the acid-test of the MLK development board would be how many former terrorists were members.

Most of us expected a few, but instead we have a technocratic crew of experts with, if anything, a pro-Union tinge.

It has been widely noted that Terence Brannigan, the business-savvy chair, is a DUP member; there is less mention of the fact that another, Jack Gallagher, is a former adviser to Peter Robinson.

Maurice Kinkead, another board member, is an ex-Baptist minister and current chair of the East Belfast Partnership. Duncan McCausland is a former RUC and PSNI officer.

The only person I noticed with clear republican roots is Joe O’Donnell, the former Sinn Fein councillor from Short Strand.

The idea that such a group, with its leavening of academics, like Tony Gallagher from Queen’s University and Terri Scott, president of the Institute of Technology, Sligo, would produce a shrine to terrorism stretches credulity.

If they did, Daniel Libeskind, who designed the 9/11 memorial and Manchester Imperial War Museum, would be the wrong man to pick to work on it.

There is an opposite danger — that the conflict and the history of the prison will be omitted.

A watchtower, an H-Block and the hospital wing, in which the 1981 hunger strikers died, are listed buildings and legally they must be preserved, but they stand free of the planned conflict resolution centre. The tourist potential will be diminished and the lessons of history lost if these buildings are left locked up. Mr Libeskind should use them to tell the stories of prisoners of all hues and the staff who guarded them.

It is not a history which justifies violence; this is a place where people suffered on both sides of the cell doors for a compromise that was largely available at the outset.

Most people would draw the conclusion that such suffering must never be repeated.

The Executive took too long staring this gift-horse in the mouth. The 360-acre Maze site sat empty, running up maintenance bills, right through the property boom into the depths of the current bust.

Had it been developed earlier, the potential would have been far greater and the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, which is moving there, would have got a far better price for its current Balmoral headquarters.

Our leaders are good at that. Just this week, we saw public land in Ballymena, which once had an offer of £37.5m on it, sold to build a super-church and other developments for just £4m.

Moving the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development from Dundonald House in Belfast to the vacant Army base at Ballykelly in Co Londonderry is expected to be a drain on the public purse. If we had done it a few years ago, the Executive would have made a fortune on the sale.

Failure to strike while the iron is hot was an expensive mistake. At this moment in time, the listed buildings present an opportunity which will soon disappear if they are allowed to crumble into disrepair for political reasons.Failure to strike while the iron is hot has proved an expensive mistake for |the Executive

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