The head of an arm’s-length government body has expressed hope that political agreement can be reached to unlock the economic potential of the former Maze prison site in Northern Ireland.
Brett Hannam, chief executive of the Strategic Investment Board (SIB), told MLAs there is a well-developed plan for economic development of the site near Lisburn.
The SIB advises government departments on issues around infrastructure investment.
Buildings on the remnants of the former H Block Maze prison at Long Kesh (Niall Carson/PA)
In 2013 former Stormont first minister Peter Robinson stalled efforts to build a peace centre as part of redevelopment of the sprawling grounds which once housed the high-security jail and were gifted to the Northern Ireland Executive by the UK Government.
The prison housed paramilitary inmates during the Troubles and was the location for republican hunger strikes in 1981 in which 10 died, including Bobby Sands.
Unionists have expressed concern about the symbolism of building a peace centre there.
MLAs on the Executive Office committee heard on Wednesday that little progress has been made on developing the site.
Committee chairwoman Sinead McLaughlin said members had expressed concern at the “lack of progress”.
Sinead McLaughlin (Brian Lawless/PA)
Mr Hannam said the SIB had been working on the project since 2006 and handed control to the Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation in 2012.
He added: “During the period between 2009 and 2013 SIB aided the development of proposals for a peace building and conflict resolution centre.
“Since late 2013, and in the absence of ministerial agreement on a way forward for the site, SIB’s input has been more limited.
“I am sure we all hope that in due course a way will be found to unlock the massive economic development potential of this site and to exploit to the full.
“If ministers decided that the board should have more freedom of action, then it has a well-developed plan for taking forward economic development of the site.
“In the absence of such ministerial agreement then it is impossible to move forward beyond the strict boundaries that have been set.”
Trevor Lunn (David Young/PA)
Speaking after the committee was given a presentation on the site, independent MLA Trevor Lunn said: “The reason the presentation was short was because there was so little to discuss because of the impasse we all know about, and that is a crying shame.
“My involvement with this thing started in the early 2000s. Precious little has moved forward in 18 years, I hope it is not another 18 years before we see something concrete.”
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