Northern Ireland

Orange Order asks unionists to halt Maze conflict centre

Maze prison
Image caption The Orange Order says plans of the former Maze prison would add to trauma of Troubles victims

The Orange Order has called on unionist politicians to halt a planned conflict resolution centre.

In a statement, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland called the project "flawed and fundamentally ill-conceived".

The statement said the centre, on the site of the former Maze prison, would "deepen the trauma and prolong the healing process" for Troubles victims.

"Approximately one in ten of the people killed during the Troubles were members of the Orange Order," it added.

"Having lost 337 of our members as a result of republican violence, the Orange institution will always stand up for the rights and entitlements of innocent victims.

"We would therefore call on all our unionist elected representatives, even at this late stage, not to proceed with this flawed and fundamentally ill-conceived project."

The 350 acre site of the former prison is being redeveloped at a cost of £300m. A large part of it has been designated for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) which held its annual show at the site for the first time in May 2013 .

Since the jail closed in 2000, there has been a constant debate about how the site should be used.

It was earmarked for a new national sports stadium but the proposal was rejected after years of disagreement.

In April, DUP MLA Edwin Poots said his party had made a "corporate decision" to get behind the redevelopment of the former Maze prison site.

In a statement on Thursday, the DUP said it was "mystified" by the Orange Order's statement.

"After all, the proposal to build a peace centre at the Maze site came from a panel led by a leading member of the Ulster Unionist Party and Orangeman," the statement said.

"Grand Lodge did not object or criticise the decision when it was made in 2005 and presented by one of their Orange brethren.

"That report recommended both the listing of the prison buildings and called for a peace centre to be located within the prison buildings.

"This report, presented by a leading UUP member and Orangeman, was also endorsed by the then Ulster Unionist Party leader (also an Orangeman).

"Why did Grand Lodge not state their opposition when the binding decision was taken eight years ago?"

Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott welcomed the Orange Order's opposition to the centre.

"The Order is clearly responding to the growing concern within the wider community regarding locating the proposed Conflict Transformation Centre at the Maze," he said.

"To build such a centre at the most divisive site in Northern Ireland is in no-one's interests, especially victims.

He said the plan for the site "guarantees the creation of a shrine to republican terror, and in particular the hunger-strikers".

"It will compound the hurt of victims, place an undue emphasis on the former inmates of the Maze prison, and is absolutely the wrong place to tell the story of the 3,500 people who lost their lives in the conflict," he added.