Plans to build a peace centre at the site of a former prison for paramilitaries have been officially scrapped, according to the Ulster Unionist Party.
Redevelopment of the Maze site has been a source of major political discord for many years, with some unionists expressing fears that the creation of a Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre could become a “shrine to terrorism”.
Ten republican prisoners died on hunger strike at the prison in the early 1980s.
The proposed centre – which was first given the green light by planners back in 2013 – stalled after the DUP withdrew its support.
And the UUP has said those behind the scheme – the Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation (MLKDC) – have decided to drop the plans for the centre.
A delegation, including Mike Nesbitt MLA and European election candidate Danny Kennedy, were briefed on a revised strategy by the body’s chairman Terence Brannigan and chief executive Bryan Gregory.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Nesbitt said: “Mr Brannigan talked us through what he called a revised strategy. The board discussed it and decided that because of the political impasse, they would just take the peace centre out of the plans. They want to go forward and develop this site.”
Welcoming the move, former Stormont minister Mr Kennedy said creating a peace centre at the site was “a toxic idea for thousands of victims of terrorist violence”.
However, he said his party has “always supported the principle of strategic development” at the Maze site, adding: “It is time to take the handcuffs off the MLKDC and allow them to push ahead with what should be the single most important economic initiative we have.
“Properly developed, the Maze could be the catalyst for a £800m investment with 14,000 high-quality jobs and several thousand new homes.
“I am asking my MLA colleagues to ensure the delivery of this site is on the agenda for the current political talks.”
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party had “made it clear that development of the Maze site in a manner that can gain community consensus is the only option to move forward”.
He added: “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 significantly boost the NI economy.
“We welcome the UUP’s support for our aims in this regard.”
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said the regeneration of the site “retains huge potential to create jobs and boost the economy”.
He added: “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 seem interested only in welcoming a decision to renege on yet what was another agreement and a programme for government commitment.”
The News Letter was unable to reach the MLKDC for comment yesterday.
However, a spokesperson for the Executive Office said any decision regarding the future development of the site “would be a matter for ministers”, adding: “No decisions have been taken.”