Fears over Maze peace centre funding

Planning approval for the 347-acre site was granted in April 2013 Planning approval for the 347-acre Maze site was granted in April 2013

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European officials have expressed fears that it may not be possible to reallocate the £18m funding set aside for the Maze peace centre to other projects.

The European agency responsible for managing the peace centre project is due to seek clarification from Stormont officials on Wednesday.

Last week, the DUP put the peace centre project on hold.

NI Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that was "a mistake".

The signs advertising the European Peace Centre are still up inside the Maze site, but no tenders have gone out for firms interested in turning the architect's drawings into concrete.

At a conference in Brussels in January, the planned peace centre was hailed as a great example of Northern Ireland moving forward.

The BBC has asked for an interview with European commissioner Johannes Hahn to respond to the latest developments, but he was on holiday and not available.

In a statement, the Special European Union Programme Body, which manages Europe's peace programme, said it was still in discussions with the Maze Development Corporation so it could not comment.

However, the BBC has also had sight of internal email exchanges in which European Commission officials concede that "the prospective abandonment of the peace centre would cause significant problems".

The officials pointed out that the Irish government is a co-funder of the peace centre, alongside Stormont, and that transferring money between government departments could prove difficult.

They expressed doubts that the Special European Union Programmes Body "would be able to find potential projects to fill the void within the necessary time constraints, leading to a decommitment".

That is EU jargon for acknowledging the money may well be lost.

The emails added that "the loss of the peace centre would clearly lead to difficult communications challenges".

A European Union source told the BBC that despite the fears expressed in the emails, it is still possible some of the peace centre cash could be diverted elsewhere.

Future

However, the source acknowledged that £18m projects are few and far between.

European officials are due to meet Stormont civil servants to discuss the matter.

However, in the absence of any political consensus, there is no guarantee the officials will be able to clarify the future of the peace centre.

The centre was to be built as part of a £300m redevelopment of the site.

Last week, the first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said it should not proceed without consensus. He made his remarks in a letter sent to all DUP MPs and MLAs.

At the weekend, Mr McGuinness said that move gave "succour" to some "in the extremes of political unionism".

The DUP criticised the comments by the deputy first minster.

The board overseeing the redevelopment of the former Maze prison site is seeking "urgent" clarification about the future of the planned peace centre.

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