OPPOSITION to controversial plans to build a peace centre on the site of the former Maze prison is gathering momentum, it has been revealed.
Three political parties say they have now gathered around 10,000 signatures for their ‘Raze The Maze’ plans.
Those who have signed the petition are calling for a halt to the building of a “peace centre” on the site of the Maze prison and the immediate demolition of the prison buildings.
The jail housed paramilitary prisoners and unionists have expressed fears it could become a shrine to terrorists.
On Thursday night, hundreds of campaigners turned up at a public meeting in Lisburn, Co Antrim which was organised by the TUV, Ulster Unionists and UKIP.
The three parties claim some victims groups weren’t consulted during the planning process for the peace centre.
The RUC George Cross Widows Association have now voiced their opposition to the Stormont Executive plans.
Danna Cochrane from the association said widows oppose the site because they feel it would be “glorifying people who took RUC men’s lives”.
She said it was difficult to get middle ground on the issue, “especially on a site like the Maze which is controversial in itself”.
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “They consulted with many ex-prisoners groups. But, never once did they meet an innocent victims group.
“So the public petition is an opportunity for the public, in spite of the attempt to snub them to have their say, and to say if we need a peace and reconciliation centre the one place you do not want to put it is on the most divisive site you can find in Northern Ireland.”
There has been much political disagreement over the future of the prison site since it closed 13 years ago, after the release of paramilitary prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement.
Home to many high-profile republican and loyalist inmates during the Troubles, the prison was where the IRA hunger strikes of the early 1980s were staged. They led to the death of 10 men and made headlines worldwide.
Former prison buildings, including the hospital block where the hunger strikers died, are being retained on the 347 acre site – although they will not form part of the planned centre.
Some unionists objected to the retention of the buildings. The green light was given to develop the area in April – but the UUP, TUV and UKIP say it will become a shrine to terrorists.
UUP MLA Tom Elliott said: “There is a place in Northern Ireland for a peace centre, for a resolution centre and I fully support that – but not at the Maze where there is so much history of the Hunger strikers and of Republican violence.”
However the DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, said that of the 350 acres within the Maze site the listed and retained buildings take up only a tiny fraction.
He continued: “The Peace Centre that is to be built is on a separate site to these buildings and it will focus on the entire history of the site, including its long association with the Royal Air Force and its use during World War II.
“The DUP will ensure that there is nothing within the Peace Centre or the Maze site as a whole that could become a shrine to terrorism.”
Among those on the panel at Thursday night’s rally was victims campaigner Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was murdered by the IRA.
She said: “Who in their right mind would expect victims to go out to prison to tell their story?
“I mean, why would you want to go out to somewhere which had held people who had perhaps made you a victim in the first place?”
The unionist parties say they have significant support for their campaign against the development and that more rallies like Lisburn will be held throughout the summer.