Long-awaited plans for a controversial “Troubles museum” have been agreed in a new blueprint for redeveloping the North’s former top security Maze prison, it emerged today.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness revealed he and First Minister Peter Robinson had reached agreement on developing the sprawling Maze/Long Kesh site next to the M1 motorway outside Belfast.
And while he remained tight-lipped on details, it is understood Sinn Féin and the DUP have ended years of deadlock by agreeing to a development agency to unlock the commercial potential of the site, while a much-anticipated International Conflict Transformation Centre (ICTC) will retain some of the prison buildings.
The ICTC will use European Union funding to help pass the lessons of the peace process to other global trouble-spots. It will also retain a number of buildings, including one of the jail’s infamous H-blocks and the hospital where 10 republican hunger strikers, led by IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, starved to death in 1981.
At the official opening of the first high-speed road link between Belfast and Dublin, Mr McGuinness today said: “I think Peter Robinson and I will have more good news to announce in regard to the development of the Maze/Long Kesh site.
“We have actually reached agreement and we will publicly announce how we intend to take that forward over the next very short while.”
He said the announcement would “open up opportunities” by unlocking the economic potential of the sprawling 365-acre site.
The key prison buildings have already been protected by being granted listed status.
The buildings to be retained recall the history of republican prisoners held there, but also of loyalist inmates, prison staff, plus the site’s earlier standing as a Second World War airfield.
But unionists had in the past expressed concern over any plan to retain buildings linked to the republican hunger strikers.
At the height of the hunger strike, which saw republicans effectively demand the status of political prisoners, Bobby Sands was elected MP for the Fermanagh-South Tyrone constituency.
The issue of how best to redevelop the site have raged since the prison closed in 2000.
Early plans to build a sports stadium at the location have already been ruled out.
In May it emerged more than £12m (€14m) has been spent on the potential redevelopment of the former prison, including work to clear the site.
The news sparked fresh pressure for politicians to agree a plan to finally tap into the area’s economic potential.