Northern Ireland

Mike Nesbitt proposes trauma centre as Maze alternative

Mike Nesbitt

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said an international trauma centre should be built as an alternative to the Maze Peace Centre.

Mr Nesbitt made the proposal during his speech at his party's annual conference.

EU funding of £18m was removed after the DUP withdrew its support for the proposed peace centre on the site of the former prison.

Mr Nesbitt said what was missing from the debate was an alternative plan.

"I offer that alternative, an alternative that addresses the hidden legacy of the Troubles - poor mental health and well-being. I am sorry to report, we are world-leaders in this field," he said.

"Let us create an international mental health centre: a facility that will be a global centre of excellence to help those who suffer trauma, whatever the cause. I am talking about the best in the world."

He added: "The world has been generous to us, with their support and their money.

"Let us repay them with a centre that will offer help and hope to everyone. Let Northern Ireland become known as the 'go to' place for soldiers traumatised in war, to children traumatised by a gun attack on their school campus, to the survivors of train and plane crashes."

He suggested Ormiston House in east Belfast as a possible venue for the new trauma centre, saying it would cost a fraction of the £18m funding for the Maze peace centre.

Ormiston House, a 19th Century mansion set on a 13 acre site close to Stormont, is owned by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

It bought the Grade B listed building for £9m in 2001, but ten years later, it put the property on the market with an asking price of just £2.5m.

Image caption Mr Nesbitt suggested Ormiston House in east Belfast as the venue for a new trauma centre

It was not sold and the price had since dropped to £1.6m.

'Brains, not brawn'

As UUP leader Mr Nesbitt campaigned against the proposed peace centre at the Maze.

"We forced Peter Robinson into a massive u-turn on the Maze, and we did it without a riot, without street protests, without so much as a white line protest. Brains, not brawn," he told the conference.

He said another fight his party was committed to was against the "republican campaign for equivalence".

Mr Nesbitt said republican paramilitaries had chosen to get involved in violence, they had not been forced into it.

"If I forever associate a united Ireland with no warning bombs like Bloody Friday and La Mon, is that my fault? Republicans chose it should be that way," he said.

"I believe history will record that among the many things the IRA blew away was the chance for a united Ireland.

"By contrast, in a few months time, Scottish nationalists will see a referendum on Scottish independence. Not a gun discharged. Not a bomb detonated. Not a single act of terror required."

Mr Nesbitt said the Ulster Unionists wanted the education portfolio at Stormont and would strive to bring in a single education system in Northern Ireland.


The Ulster Unionist leader also called for a new covenant with the people of Northern Ireland.

"A covenant that recognises that we can do better for all our people by shaping a fairer education system, a stronger economy, better housing and a health service not only free at the point of delivery but with delivery points that are accessible and appropriate to the needs of our people," he said.

The speech was Mr Nesbitt's second as party leader - a period which has seen three sitting MLAs quit the party because of differences.

Basil McCrea and John McCallister left to form the new party NI21, and David McNarry switched to UKIP.

Earlier a prominent speaker was Jim Nicholson, the party's candidate in next year's European elections that will be the first to be fought under Mr Nesbitt's leadership.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy told the conference it was a long time since the UUP was so united and the DUP so divided.

Other speakers will include the new shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Ivan Lewis.

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