Compromise reached on Long Kesh plan

The former Long Kesh prison, a famous site of struggle for Irish Republicans, will be converted into a sports stadium and a new centre for conflict transformation, under the agreed report of an all-party advisory panel.

The report has been backed by the four main political parties in the North and is a rare example of agreement in the current political climate.

The panel’s report, recommends the following key components of their plan:

* a multi-purpose sports zone to accommodate Gaelic sports, soccer, rugby and other sports;

* a new International Centre for Conflict Transformation including the preservation of former prison buildings on the site:

* an equestrian zone and showgrounds;

* a community centre and an office, hotel and leisure village

A museum had been sought for the site where hundreds of IRA prisoners were held at the height of the troubles.

The proposals calls for the retention of one H-block, the prison hospital, administration buildings, a section of the perimeter wall, a watch tower and cage from the compound.

Edwin Poots, a hardline unionist member of the panel pointed out that the structures to be preserved made up only five percent of the overall site.

“At the outset Sinn Féin were looking for a museum, there’s no museum here.

“If they ever want to get one, they will have to ask unionists to support it, so we have a veto over that.”

The conflict centre will link with similar centres abroad, including the Robben Island site in South Africa and academic institutions.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Raymond McCartney, a former IRA hunger striker, welcomed the retention of one of the H-Blocks as part of the development and commended the advisory panel on its work.

The retention of the prison hospital, where ten hunger strikers died in 1981, was also welcomed by republicans.

However the Foyle Assembly member said it remained to be seen how the plan would be received and put into operation.

“There is still a lot to be done to achieve the recommendations in the report. Key to this will be the commitment of the British Government to resourcing the recommendations,” he said.

“This must take account of the fact that necessary public services in the north are already significantly underfunded and have been for many years. It is essential that additional monies over and above the block grant are made available to take forward any of these recommendations which require substantial funding.

“The British Government must commit to the injection of additional funding to realise the recommendations of the report.”

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© 2005 Irish Republican News