Prison walls come down

Demolition of the perimeter wall of the infamous H-Blocks has begun, marking a final end to Long Kesh’s function as a prison and the first phase in the construction of a new multi-function development on the site.

Work to knock down the 2.2-mile long exterior wall, erected in 1976 when the prison was build to replace internment camp huts, began on Tuesday. The entire jail -- except for one H-block, one cage and a watch tower -- is to be demolished to make way for a new multi-sport stadium. The remaining structures are to form part of a proposed International Centre for Conflict Transformation.

The prison is most famous for the 1980 and 1981 hunger strike, in which ten republican prisoners died. It housed perhaps 25,000 prisoners through the years, while It is estimated that 200,000 people (or one in eight of the population of the Six counties) have a family connection with the site.

The Maze/Long Kesh Monitoring Group, set up to put forward regeneration ideas, welcomed the beginning of the removal of the prison wall. The chairman of the group, DUP assembly member Edwin Poots said: “I am very excited to see this demolition work commence.

“This site is 360 acres of prime development land and the opportunities are endless.

Vice-chairman of the monitoring group, former PoW Sinn Fein assembly member Paul Butler said: “This project means parties from all sides of the divide are working together on a shared future.

“Preservation of some of the prison’s buildings is essential to protect our history and to educate future generations.”

“We must bring the history of Long Kesh with us into the future and learn the lessons of never allowing this to happen ever again.”

Mr Butler said Long Kesh “was both an icon and a microcosm of the conflict” and “a contested space” but that it now provided “a huge opportunity to bring about a major physical expression of the ongoing transformation from conflict to peace.”

“The proposals for the former prison have the potential to bring about significant long term social and economic benefits to the whole of the community. In particular they offer the chance to provide new social and economic opportunities for both communities.

“Today opens a new chapter on this site. That chapter will hopefully be an entirely different one to that which has gone before. For our part Sinn Fein wants to see and help bring about a new beginning to this site whereby all of the community can reap the benefit”.

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© 2007 Irish Republican News