Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Viewpoint: No excuse for lack of courtesy

At a time when greater clarity is urgently needed, confusion now reigns over the proposal to develop a multi-sports stadium at the Maze. The actions of certain unionist members in collapsing yesterday's crucial meeting of the culture committee at Stormont were deplorable.

Their argument was that they wanted to be shown feasibility studies and business cases for the development, but they did not enhance their case by staging a walk-out. An opportunity to hear a presentation from designers who had travelled from England was lost, and all the public has to go on for the time being is the computer-generated images which have been released to the Press.

Those Assembly members who took part in the walk-out let themselves down and did the public a disservice in their discourteous actions. Surely there is a more dignified means of eliciting the information they wanted than taking part in what amounts to little more than a stunt.

There are many pros and cons about the Maze scheme, but the process will not be accelerated by a refusal to engage in dialogue. Hopefully the committee will be able to reconvene at the earliest opportunity so that yet more time is not lost.

As reported by the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week, the 37,000 seat stadium is just one element in the project, which will be located on a mile-wide 360-acre site. The blueprint also boasts an exhibition centre, agricultural showgrounds and a leisure/entertainment complex.

Ever since the proposal was first mooted, the most controversial aspect has been the suggestion that it should feature a conflict transformation centre. In the midst of uncertainty about precisely what was being planned, fears were voiced that this would be a shrine to terrorism.

To judge from the limited information now in the public domain, that is a misapprehension. In fact, the aspiration is that this centre should embrace the full story of the Maze, from wartime when it acted as an RAF and American Air Force base to its role as a prison during the Troubles.

Appropriately, cognisance will be given not just to republican and loyalist inmates but also to the sacrifices made by prison officers. Provided sensitivity is shown and terrorism is not glorified, much anxiety can be assuaged.

Another key consideration is access and a rail link will be required to transport people directly into the complex. In addition, football, GAA and rugby must make a firm commitment to arranging fixtures at the stadium.

With Belfast's proposal now looking as if it is going nowhere, the prospect of locating the stadium at the Maze is beginning to look like the only show in town. But before decisions are taken, all the detail will have to painted in.

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