A member of the hardline unionist DUP is to take the helm of a body tasked with overseeing the conversion of the former site of Long Kesh prison, including the demolition of most or all of the world-famous H-Blocks.
The prison, known officially as HMP Maze, was a site of intense struggle at the height of the conflict in the north of Ireland. Ten hunger strikers, who died in a protest against criminalisation in 1981, were among thousands of political prisoners held there. Republicans were first interned in cages [compounds] on the site in 1971, when it was known as Long Kesh (Ceis Fada).
After the decision to close the prison was taken in 2000, there were calls for it to be preserved in its entirety as a world heritage site,.
Terence Brannigan, who is a senior DUP member, was announced this week as the chairman of the ‘Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation’.
But in a press release announcing the appointment, Mr Brannigen is listed as having declared no political activity, for reasons which remain unclear.
Plans for the development currently include, an office, hotel and leisure village, an agricultural society and a ‘conflict transformation centre’ including the prison’s former hospital ward.
A proposal for a 300 million pound multi-sports stadium at the site was abandoned in 2009.
When asked about Mr Brannigan’s links to the DUP, Sinn Fein’s Mr McGuinness said he was satisfied with the appointment and dismissed nationalist concerns.
“It’s not an issue for me at all. I’m actually very relaxed about it and I don’t see why other people are getting energised about it,” he said.
“What we have to satisfy ourselves when we make these appointments is whether or not the people we appoint to these positions understand the economic, historical and reconciliation potential of the site.”
Mr McGuinness said redevelopment of the site would show how the north “has been transformed and regenerated in moving beyond conflict”.
Development of the site has been slow, mainly due to unionist opposition to the retention of the former hospital ward where the hunger strikers died.
DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said the Stormont administration was determined that the centre would not become a republican “shrine”.
“All sensible people will recognise that we’ve committed ourselves at every level, that there will be no shrine at the Maze,” he said.
He said administrators would “maximise the economic development potential of this valuable regeneration site”.
Mr Brannigan said he did not declare his DUP membership when he applied for the post because he was only asked if he had ever canvassed for a political party. He said he would have happily declared his membership, if he had been asked.
The Commissioner for Public Appointments in the north criticised the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) for breaching a code of practice.
Commissioner John Keanie said they had failed to comply with the code on a number of points, including not having named the political parties to which several board members have links.