Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

We are offering a chance to take step back from brink

The UUP's petition against the Maze conflict resolution centre will give the people their say, writes Mike Nesbitt

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
The new Maze site proposal
The new Maze site proposal

When you are on the brink of making a massive mistake, what do you do? The answer seems pretty simple to me: you stop.

You stop, irrespective of how long you've been planning the move, or how much money you've spent on it, or the short-term damage to your reputation.

It's what the Ulster Unionist Party call Country First, Party Second. It's what the DUP and Sinn Fein should do with the planned peace centre at the Maze.

Let me be clear about our vision for the Maze: we want it redeveloped. It's a huge site, some 360 acres, of regional significance.

That's why we support the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society making it the new, permanent home of the Balmoral Show.

It's why we should have had a new national sports stadium built there, to give physical meaning to a shared future, rather than the shared out future that sees three different sports grounds under development.

What we do not support is locating the peace centre there, because it is the most toxic and divisive site that you could possibly choose for such a building. I would prefer the Crumlin Road in Belfast, where the gaol, courthouse and connecting tunnel are symbols of our troubled, criminal past.

North Belfast saw more murders per square mile than any other part of Northern Ireland and the current rates of poverty, deprivation and unemployment cry out for an investment like the one planned for the peace centre.

Anyone who has read the newspapers, or monitored the media, since then knows that building the peace centre at the Maze will put an undue emphasis on terrorists, or victim-makers, at the cost of a focus on innocent victims, where it should be.

As one group put it, the inmates left the Maze as terrorists, but will return as victims.

Telling the story of the prison is not the same thing as the story of the Troubles and it is morally wrong to spend so much public money on the former.

In launching our petition against a peace centre at the Maze, we are being open and transparent – in stark contrast to Sinn Fein and the DUP, who we know commissioned a survey, but will not publish the findings, so we do not know what the public told them about the idea.

Nor will they publish the business plan that justifies all such developments. What we do know is that, even if 110,000 people a year pay to visit the proposed building, Sinn Fein/DUP are prepared for it to run at a loss of £2m in the first three years – that makes it no Titanic Building.

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson tell us it will not be a shrine to terrorism. Anyone who thinks it through knows that it is the people who decide what is and is not a shrine – not the politicians. There may not be official tour guides spinning a tale, but how do you stop unofficial guides from glorifying the story of the inmates? You cannot.

It is also clear from the debate of the last two weeks that there is no agreement on the building's purpose and functions.

The Ulster Unionist Party has been much criticised for allegedly changing our position on the peace centre.

This comes from the party that said 'Never. Never. Never. Never', before inexplicably sitting down to share power with republicans.

Nigel Dodds is not the only senior DUP member to indulge in plain speaking about the development at the Maze.

Jeffrey Donaldson and others are also on record, voicing their concerns.

But that is a zero sum game. We are where we are, which is on the brink of making a massive mistake.

That is why we are offering the people the chance to have their voice heard – starting with a petition.

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