Mosque at the Maze would be fitting gesture
Published 05/06/2014 | 08:53
How about a multi-faith site at the Maze? When Peter Robinson met the Islamic community on Wednesday, he encountered so many doctors and nurses that he wondered how our health service would function without them.
In fact, Edwin Poots, the Health Minister, wants a relaxation of Government regulations to enable him to recruit even more medical staff from the Indian sub-continent, both India and Pakistan.
They fill vital skill shortages which our own education system should be meeting locally, but isn't. Indeed, Queen's University is also offering scholarships to top-quality students from Pakistan.
That says something about our schools and system of careers advice which should be addressed.
It is also vital that these people who fill vital posts should be made welcome; they are the lifeblood of our society and they don't have to make their homes and rear their children here. We need them.
Part of that is accepting their culture and, where they have one, their religion. It is shameful, for instance, that there is as yet no purpose-built mosque in Northern Ireland.
There have been planning applications at places like Belfast, Portadown and Armagh, but they have always been stopped for one reason or another.
Perhaps it is time to look at Government land, which could be sold at a commercial rate, but where planning wouldn't be such an issue.
For instance, the Maze site in Lisburn is within easy driving distance of both south Belfast and Portadown, where a lot of Muslims live, and is about 40 minutes from Armagh.
A mosque and Islamic centre there, or Hindu or Sikh temple if there is the demand, would send out a powerful message that Northern Ireland isn't just about two irreconcilable tribes.
There is a case for making room for a multi-faith centre there, but that would, in the end, need buy-in from the different religious communities.
If this site doesn't suit, other Government land exists at places like Ormiston near Stormont and all across the province, which could be freed up.
Getting a race relations strategy on the books is important. But, as we have seen, there is also a place for symbolic gestures of openness, like Martin McGuinness's handshake with the Queen, or Peter Robinson's attendance at Catholic funerals.
Helping with places of worship is one gesture which our main parties could make in a united manner.