There has been political
uproar over a move to block permission for the Ulster
Aviation Society to hold its
annual open days at the former Maze prison site.
Comments by Sinn Fein MLA Caitríona Ruane that the society’s open days could proceed if the DUP agreed to re-open access to the historic prison building have been met with disgust by local politicians.
“There was an agreement on the development and use of the entire site which would have opened up its enormous potential in terms of job creation and economic development,” said Mrs Ruane.
“This was reflected in the agreed Programme for Government and was backed by £18m in European funding.
“This agreement was reached after months of discussion and negotiation and was a compromise position which would open up the protected historic buildings at the Long Kesh site.
“At the behest of negative voices within the DUP, Peter Robinson then reneged on this agreement, unilaterally stopping all progress and preventing access to the prison building for thousands of tourists and other visitors. That remains the DUP position.
“The DUP cannot cherry-pick the parts of an agreement which they support and block the elements they have difficulty with. That is not how negotiations work.
“Sinn Féin is willing today to agree that the UAS open day can proceed as requested if access to the prison buildings is reinstated. We can then come back to discuss the wider issues around the full development of the site.”
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “It is childish and petty for Sinn Fein to damage the work of the Ulster Aviation Society because a small republican clique demand that certain buildings take priority over everything else on the site.
“Unfortunately the Ulster Aviation Society are being victimised as Sinn Fein block their open day in an apparent attempt to use it as leverage for their narrow political agenda.”
Lagan Valley Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said the situation at the Maze site demonstrated a ‘severe lack of leadership’ by Sinn Fein and the DUP.
“It is ridiculous that this event has been cancelled as a result of a spat between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
“This event has nothing to do with politics, and just like the Balmoral show, which also takes place at the Maze site, it should have been approved by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.
“The claim by Sinn Fein that they have blocked this event as a result of the DUP’s veto of the Conflict Resolution Centre is not a valid excuse. It is just an example of petty politics. We can only hope that even at this late stage, common sense might prevail and allow this event to take place.”
The Chairman of Lisburn City Council’s Economic Development Committee, Alderman Allan Ewart, said he was “disappointed” the annual event had to be cancelled.
“I am reminded of the schoolboy who doesn’t get his own way and lifts the ball and let’s no one play.
“The Economic Development Committee on the Council has supported this event in the past and had agreed to do the same this year.
“It would have brought many visitors to the area and would have been good for the local economy.
“I am disappointed for the members of the Ulster Aviation Society who are all volunteers and do a fantastic job, and have built up a great collection of planes but because of the antics of Sinn Fein they can’t proceed with their open days.”
Councillor Stephen Martin also expressed outrage at the situation.
“This is a damning indictment on the complete failure of OFMDFM to get its act together.
“It is an absolute scandal that hard-working volunteers seeking to increase awareness and provide a great day out for families should find themselves victim to a complete bureaucratic disaster with no reason in fact policy or logic to deny the Society the right to press ahead with their plans.”
SDLP Councillor Pat Catney added: “It is unacceptable, and frankly unbelievable, that the public continue to be punished as part of political games being played by Sinn Féin and the DUP.
“The Ulster Aviation Society open days are community events that draw large crowds of families and young people. To drag such events into the political mire of the Maze fiasco is deeply disappointing and petty. People here don’t want to get caught up in the shallow politics that the two largest parties are engaged in. We don’t want to be used as pawns in their games. This is another loss for this area and the blame lies squarely at the door of those trying to score political points.”
Lisburn Councillor Alexander Redpath commented: “I have been warning for some time that Sinn Fein were prepared to veto any development at the Maze site. Sinn Fein are throwing their toys out of the pram because they didn’t get their terrorist shrine. This is both petty and vindictive. I also believe it is nakedly sectarian as the economic impact of their veto on any further development will overwhelmingly impact upon unionists.”