2 November 2006 Edition

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Shared vision for Long Kesh site

As demolition squads moved in to begin the destruction of Cage 20 in Long Kesh so began the first phase of the regeneration of one of the most contentious sites of the last four decades of the conflict in the North.

On Monday 30 October diggers tore down Cage 20, one of the old so-called compounds, where republican internees were imprisoned. Other cages held both loyalist and republican sentenced prisoners.

To those republicans who were incarcerated there the place was Long Kesh, a concentration camp. To the Prison Authorities it was The Maze, a name the British used as they attempted to deny the political nature of the struggle in the North.

It was the attempt to criminalise the struggle, that lead the British government to close the Cages in the late 1970s and build the H Blocks. Out of that arose an epic prison battle that would result in the deaths of 10 republican Hunger Strikers.

Now the site of the Long Kesh Prison Camp is set to be developed and will host a new sports stadium that will see Gaelic games, rugby and soccer played. On that all the North's political parties are agreed. The parties have also accepted that part of the prison will be preserved as a heritage site, in recognition of the political significance of the prison.

One of the old cages, with it's Nissen Huts will be kept as will the hospital wing of the camp where the 10 Hunger Strikers died as well as H Block 6. The new heritage site will also see the construction of an International Centre for Conflict Transformation.

Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Butler, a former Long Kesh POW, who was on hand to witness the destruction of Cage 20 told An Phoblacht: "The history of the site has many sides and was populated by republicans, loyalists, prison wardens, British soldiers and politicians.

"It is a place associated with the conflict and it mirrored that conflict. It housed 25,000 republican and loyalist prisoners; 15,000 prison officers worked there; the families of these 40,000 people were intimately bound up with the place which means that up to 200,000 people would have a strong connection with the jail. That is a unique situation.

"However the changes in the jail provide us with a huge opportunity to bring about a major physical expression of the ongoing transformation from conflict to peace.

"The opportunity now exists to open a new chapter. That chapter will hopefully be an entirely different one to that which has gone before. Sinn Féin wants to see a shared vision for the site and help bring about a new beginning".

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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