by JULIE ANN SPENCE
THE long awaited regeneration of the former Maze prison site took a step forward this week when the Strategic Investment and Regeneration Plan was approved by the Stormont Assembly.
The plan to regenerate the site has been given a lukewarm response by
and members of the public, however it received unanimous support when it passed through the Assembly on Tuesday (September 14).
A development corporation will now be established to drive forward the regeneration of the Maze/Long Kesh site with the key objective to maximise the economic, historical and reconciliation potential of the site.
Proposing the plan, the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "The majority of the site has lain dormant since it was gifted to the previous Executive. That is not sustainable. Today, we can change that position; we can choose to regenerate and transform. We have a unique opportunity to derive the maximum social and economic benefit from a major public asset that will, in turn, positively impact on many sections of our society, promoting economic development and social regeneration, and making a real contribution to peace building and conflict resolution internationally. In these difficult economic times, we will not be forgiven on any level or by any quarter if we do not proceed with this iconic and symbolic transformation."
Lagan Valley MLA Jonathan Craig welcomed the unanimous approval of the
Strategic Investment and Regeneration Plan. "This news is most welcome given
the potential of the creation of 6,000 new jobs especially at this time,"
said Mr Craig. "Since 2008 unemployment in Lagan Valley has
more than doubled to over 2,000.
This news will therefore be welcomed by the people of Lagan Valley and by Northern Ireland as whole as our country faces tough times.
"I also welcome the First Minister's assurances that those living close to the site will receive benefits linked to the site. This will no doubt be welcomed by the residents' living close to the site who have suffered many inconveniences in the last 30 years." Mr Craig continued: "The people of Lagan Valley can be assured this site will not become a shrine to terrorism. The proposed Conflict Resolution Centre will include the histories of the Prison Service, RUC, Army and most importantly the story of the victims who suffered terribly through our conflict. "It was good to have assurances from the First Minister that the final say as to what goes or doesn't go into this centre is firmly in the control of his office, and uiteimately the Assembly," concluded Mr Craig.
MLA Paul Givan also welcomed the approval and said: "The site provides an opportunity that we must grasp and take forward to show that, as a community, we can actually build a future, move on and not go back to the horrendous days of the past and to what was inflicted on so many."
Environment Minister Edwin Poots added: "We have an opportunity to develop something at the Maze site that is not currently in Northern Ireland, perhaps not even in the Republic of Ireland. We can do something of real significance and of real benefit to the people of Northern Ireland. By doing so, we can create thousands of jobs and tens of millions of pounds of investment. The naysayers want to grow dingle weed: they do not want to achieve anything but rather want to block things all the time. Opportunities exist to move the community forward and to create those thousands of jobs. Irrespective of the doubters, we must proceed, and we must make it work in the best interests of Northern Ireland."