So - the Long Kesh/Maze site will very probably get the go-ahead this morning. A long time coming maybe, but better late than never.
There were two politicians on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster this morning disputing the whole idea. You might think that, as the BBC is to balance what that guy who walked the tightrope between the Twin Towers was to death-defying, one of those politicians would have been unionist and the other nationalist/republican. Wrong, I’m afraid. They were both unionist - Tom Elliot (UUP) and Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) - and they couldn’t have disagreed more.
Tom said the site would be a shrine to terrorism and it was all the DUP’s fault, so it was (btw, have you noticed how Tom pronounces ‘h’ as in ‘H-blocks’?); Jeffrey said that Tom’s party were the ones that signed up to the deal in the first place and what’s more, Noel Thompson was lying in the way he was presenting the project. Bang, wallop, thump, and all you’re left with is the feeling that the UUP and the DUP have some way to go before they find unity in their political thinking and Noel Thompson must be hoping he can meet Jeffrey up a dark alley some night soon.
The justification for the site’s development, as presented by Jeffrey, was that there’d be loads of other stuff too - the Royal Ulster Agrticultural Society, a WW2 aircraft hangar - loads of stuff that would kinda diminish the impact of that pesky H-block and hospital area where the hunger strikers died. Sorry, Jeffrey. They won’t. Whatever they say, people coming to visit the site will have one central matter in mind - the hunger strikers.
Will it be a shrine to terrorism or a peace and reconciliation centre, showing us a better way for the future? I think Tom’s nearer to the truth on this one than Jeffrey. It may not be a shrine to terrorism - we don’t remember the hunger strikers for what they did before they were sent to prison and embarked on their fast - but it will be a place where those visiting will be reminded of the matchless courage of ten men who decided that they’d rather die than be classified as common criminals. The woman laid to rest yesterday out-stared all ten men until they died, but in doing so unleashed world-wide sympathy for the dead men and gave birth to a new and powerful force in Irish politics, a force that continues to grow.
Whatever the pressures that squeezed the DUP into going along with the development of Long Kesh, they must have been formidable, for given a choice, 99% of unionism would follow David Ervine’s advice and flatten everything on the site. It might be possible to kid yourself that Ulster-Scots provides a balance to the Irish language, but there just isn’t anything to provide a balance to the sacrifice of these ten men. The Long Kesh development, like Kilmainham Jail, will jolt visitors into awareness of the courage and selflessness of those who died there.