Maze prison peace centre plans off the table, says UUP's Kennedy
Controversial plans for a peace and reconciliation centre at the former Maze prison site have been dropped, according to UUP European election candidate Danny Kennedy.
In the past, unionists have expressed concerns that development plans could lead to a "shrine to terrorism" at the site of the IRA hunger strikes.
Mr Kennedy said senior officials from the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation broke the news at a briefing to the UUP on Wednesday.
"While the news that the Development Corporation has removed the so-called Peace Building and Conflict Reconciliation Centre from their plans is welcome, it is an outrage that the corporation has been left without political direction for nearly six long years," he said.
"It is time to take the handcuffs off the Development Corporation and allow them to push ahead with what should be the single most important economic initiative we have."
The Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation did not respond to comment requests last night.
However, the Executive Office, the Stormont body responsible, insisted no decisions had been taken about any proposed changes to the plan.
But former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt MLA, who was also present at the top-level briefing, was adamant that the plan was now off the table.
"I was told explicitly that the board had unanimously decided to park the plan for the Peace Building centre - that it was no longer part of the development strategy," the MLA said.
"It may not be agreed at Executive Office level, but it is not part of the Maze Long/Kesh Development Corporation's revised plans for the site."
Earlier this week, The Irish News reported Sinn Fein were granted access to the Maze site last summer after deputy leader Michelle O'Neill expressed concerns that the former prison hospital wing, where the hunger strikers died, had deteriorated.
In 2013, then First Minister Peter Robinson angered Sinn Fein by vetoing the centre, and £18m in EU peace funding earmarked for the project had to be redistributed.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the DUP had always supported development of the Maze site as a shared space.
"The behaviour of republicans however meant there could be no consensus and the development of a peace centre would actually be a source of division," he said.
"One of the reasons we need an Executive is to take forward development of a site which has the potential for thousands of jobs and [to] significantly boost the Northern Ireland economy."
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said: "A huge opportunity was lost when the DUP bowed to pressure from other unionist parties not to develop the site.
"Now, just two days into a talks process, Danny Kennedy and the UUP seemed interested only in welcoming a decision to renege on yet what was another agreement and a Programme for Government commitment.
"The regeneration of the Long Kesh site retains huge potential to create jobs and boost the economy. The buildings which remain on the Long Kesh site are listed and will be part of the development of the rest of the site."