The former Long Kesh prison is being demolished today, with the process starting with the demolishion of the former internment compound (Nissen huts).
The prison was the centre of republican resistance despite brutal British suppresion for over two decades, including the Blanket protest, two hunger strikes, and several prison escapes. Long Kesh will also be remembered for the wealth of writings by its prisoners, the ‘University of Freedom’ in which prisoners educated themeselves to PhD level, and the ‘Jailtacht’ Irish language centre.
Speaking from the site, the British Minister responsible for the action, David Hanson said: “The demolition of the Maze/Long Kesh, leaving only those former prison buildings which have been given statutory protection, marks a further step towards achieving the goal of a new future for the site, a future that can be shared by the whole community.
“The Maze/Long Kesh has long been associated with conflict. Clearing the site will be part of the mission to transform it into a symbol of economic and social regeneration, renewal and growth.
“I believe it is very important to get the private sector involved in the vast potential for developing the site. I therefore particularly want developers and investors to see and experience the vast size of this site, and the opportunities it offers.”
The demolition of the site follows on from the ‘masterplan’ proposals announced by Mr Hanson in May this year. Cross-party agreement was reached on the development plan, with the agreed retention of the prison hospital, where ten hunger strikers died, and one block of cells.
Apart from a sports stadium where major soccer, rugby, Gaelic football and hurling matches will be played, there are also plans to develop an industrial zone as well as arts and equestrian centres.
Demolition of the entire site will take over a year. The second phase of the demolition will begin early 2007 and will involve the clearance of all but one of the H-Blocks of the former prison.
Sinn Féin’s Paul Butler said: “There is a great symbolic importance in what we are doing today. The listed prison buildings can play a huge role in the transformation from conflict to peace, and the cleared area of the site can in addition provide for the substantial economic and social regeneration set out in the Masterplan vision and agreed by the main political parties.”