Elements within Ian Paisley’s DUP are attempting to remove the historic status of the Long Kesh prison and hospital wing where hunger-strikers died.
The planned development of the Long Kesh site involves two projects, the stadium and the International Centre for Conflict Transformation and the listed prison buildings. The site is intended to become “a centre to study our past and celebrate our shared future”.
But there are claims that the 100 million pound prison site redevelopment has been put on hold after senior DUP members publicly attacked their own culture minister Edwin Poots over the plans.
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds and other leading party hardliners said they would reject plans to place a stadium beside a prison museum. The planned museum is to include a section of the famous prison site.
Mr Dodds said any visitor centre at Long Kesh would be “obnoxious” and was “something unionist people cannot accept”.
DUP members said they had received a directive not to comment on the plans until further notice.
Assembly member Paul Butler said it was still firmly the view of Sinn Féin for the creation of a Conflict Transformation Centre on the site. There was a huge resource at the Long Kesh site for this and other proposals, he said.
Sinn Féin has pointed to the popular Robben Island site in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders were once kept captive, as an analogue for the development.
“There is no viable alternative to the plans put forward by the Maze/Long Kesh Monitoring Group which all of the parties agreed to,” said Butler. “If the stadium is not built at the Long Kesh site then it is unlikely that any stadium will be built.”
Mr Butler added that the former jail was a “project of international importance”.
“Any attempt to remove the listed building status would run totally contrary to everything that we are trying to do in terms of attracting people to our country to learn from what is clearly a whole new experience for us.”
“There is huge interest around the world in the successful peace process here. The International Centre for Conflict Transformation at Long Kesh would be a showcase for the success of the peace process.
Paul Butler said many people had “looked at this place as a place where there was no future and there was just perpetual conflict”.
“Now we have come out of all of that, we have a lot to offer the world.”
In a separate development, the Dublin government is to provide 25 million Euros a year to fund a conflict resolution unit to help develop peaceful solutions in “international trouble spots”.
The project is part of an ongoing attempt by government officials to talk up and underline the end of the conflict in Ireland.
An academic centre for conflict resolution is also be created to further develop national peace-making “expertise”.
New fourth-level scholarships are to be funded to ensure a continuous stream of academics in the sector and a system of “roving ambassadors” for conflict regions.