Northern Ireland news

Aviation group urges James Brokenshire to end four-year Maze site ban

Ray Burrows and Malcolm Deeley from the Ulster Aviation Society
Brendan Hughes

AN aviation group has called on Secretary of State James Brokenshire to lift a four-year block on it holding events at the former Maze prison site.

The Ulster Aviation Society (UAS) has been unable to use the land for outdoor events because of a spat between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The political row relates to stalled plans for a £300 million redevelopment of the former jail site outside Lisburn.

In August 2013 then first minister Peter Robinson halted plans to build a peace centre after unionist critics claimed it would become a shrine to terrorism.

The Maze/Long Kesh prison was the site of the IRA hunger strikes and held some of the north's most notorious paramilitaries before it closed in 2000.

The late Martin McGuinness, then deputy first minister, responded to Mr Robinson's decision by saying no further development would take place until the issue was resolved.

The DUP claimed UAS events were blocked by Mr McGuinness, while Sinn Féin said they could proceed if the DUP re-opened access to the prison buildings.

Since then the majority of applications to use the site have been blocked, including bids from charities, community groups and film crews.

UAS, a registered charity based at the Maze site, had hoped to hold a public open day this weekend, but for a fourth year it has not received approval.

In the absence of a Stormont executive, it has now written to Mr Brokenshire in the hope of receiving permission to hold an event as part of next month's European Heritage Open Days.

Ray Burrows, chairman of UAS, said: "I want James Brokenshire and civil servants to look at our case and say, with a little bit of common sense, 'these guys should have been given the go-ahead from day one'."

Mr Burrows welcomed a new landing base at the Maze for the north's air ambulance service, but questioned why UAS was still being denied access.

Applicants wishing to use the site must receive consent from the first and deputy first ministers, except for land used by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society.

Asked why no permission had been given to UAS in the absence of an executive, civil servants running the Executive Office did not respond last night.

A British government spokeswoman said: "This is a devolved issue and the secretary of state has no remit to get involved.

"There are a number of issues mounting up that need decisions by Stormont and the UK government is committed to restoring an effective power-sharing devolved government in Northern Ireland so that all of these can be progressed as soon as possible."

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