A recovering alcoholic artist friend of mine took to painting bird cages and high walls.
I had a good idea what was prompting this development but decided to probe a little more – “I suppose everything with me is psychological” he explained.
Of his wall paintings he explained “there are walls in this house. There are walls all around the fields where I live here. We are surrounded by mountains etc. These are physical walls and then there are the walls in our heads, walls we cannot climb over… as alcoholics, addicts etc.”
That conversation has lingered with me and it was re-kindled this week with the announcement of the names of the members of the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation.
As we all know that site, because of its historical use over the last three decades, has proven controversial with Unionists contending that part of it would end up ‘an IRA shrine.’
There was a strong body of opinion that one major strike for the new Northern Ireland political dispensation, would be ‘a centre for excellence’ in sport, embracing all sports on the Maze site. The dream was that Gaelic, Rugby and Soccer would all be played on that ground.
Millions of pounds were washed down the drain in fees working up a business plan. We heard, unsubstantiated reports that a relative of US businessman Ross Perot was one of the interested parties willing to become involved in the development of the Maze and the building of the multi-purpose stadium.
DUP politics killed the Maze stadium plan.
Flowing from this the Northern Ireland Executive has chosen to refurbish and expand the three existing stadia, at Ravenhill, Windsor Park and at Casement Park.
There was an argument for a multi purpose stadium of necessity being built in and around Belfast city centre. There was a validity attaching to that contention.
What did we get? We ended up getting another three new walls in Belfast – physical walls – at Ravenhill, Windsor and Casement.
These are walls destined to obtain possibly for another century.
These euphemistic walls, are more impacting than the decision-makers realise or seem to care.
Those decision-makers have possibly irrevocably blocked a coming together of all who want to play sport on the one ground and in the one venue.
Those decision-makers have compounded division and separateness in the very one area where barriers and difference can be diminished.
A common sports ground could have proven a major confluence point for young people, where they could have met socially, availed of appropriate physical treatment and interacted on and off the field.
Those who slammed the gate on that multi-purpose stadium ought to feel ashamed because like those symbolic walls painted by my recovering alcoholic artist friend they have erected three more Belfast walls which will keep young people apart probably for another century.
I agree with the sentiments Eamonn but I did not see the sense in using the Maze site with no infrastructure, hotels, bars and restaurants. I appreciate the saying-“build it and they will come” but would they come in this economic era? Rather than a national stadium perhaps there is merit in using the Maze site for other multi-purpose sports with a focus on our other areas such as swimming, boxing, velodrome, even a rowing facility etc. Best still may be a National Disabled Sports area which would really change the focus of the Maze. In that way we retain the city based stadia with the obvious economic spin offs (albeit for Belfast but the spend helps the whole of NI) and also tackle the divisions and walls that you mention.
Two observations Damian: I am offended by the cancer of sectarianism and the absence of a politically driven campaign to tackle this. A multi-purpose sports arena may well be a once in a life time experience. The Maze was not the only option – there was the North Shore possibility , and a possible venue down in the Titanic Quarter district.( Pardon my geography). The fact is, ministers weren’t bold and courageous, taking the least line of resistance, choosing to go on propping up the walls of division.
I do find much merit in your suggestion that the Maze site might become a dedicated National Disabled Sports area, I further take aboard your point that such a development would potentially redefine the essence of the Maze complex.
You’re aware that the different sports wouldn’t be played on the same dates, right? So their respective supporters would be no more likely to meet & be “brought together” in a national stadium than they are under the current three sports, three venues setup.
As for being bold & courageous, oh I don’t know. I think it takes a degree of chutzpah not to take the “play friendly” option just because it’s there. The sports look similar, but in terms of crowd facilities & organisation and not least in terms of the pitch they have different requirements, not an insurmountable problem but one that can be done without. The games are best served by purpose designed stadia and I’m very glad all three governing bodies have them!
It’s disappointing that a more comprehensive examination couldnt have taken place into the possibilities of the Arena for the Maze to facilitate all three sports (and others). I seem to recall all three sports giving a positive welcome to the initial suggestion. All regions of these Islands, England, Scotland, Wales and R of Ireland, except N Ireland, have hosted major UEFA type finals with the financial spin-off to those venues. More recently the AVIVA in Dublin hosted the Notre Dame v Navy US football game with an estimated Euro 100m for the economy. I have no doubt that such events would and could be hosted in N Ireland with Casement Nua being the only one that would come close to accommodating the expected crowd size. Ah well….the more things change the more they remain the same!