Has Robinson’s US missile demolished Peace Centre and Executive? – Eamonn Mallie and Brian Rowan opine

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First Minister Peter Robinson, Terence Brannigan and deputy First Minister. Image from Belfast Newsletter


This article is a first on eamonnmallie.com – a joint analysis by Eamonn Mallie and Brian Rowan who have been reading between the lines of many conversations in recent days.

It is an examination of the implications – business and political – of the recent correspondence First Minister Peter Robinson sent from America to his DUP party colleagues.

The key decision detailed within his letter was the use of a veto to put on hold the Maze/Long Kesh Peace Centre project.

Robinson acted under duress. His was a response to a mood in the PUL community and the argument that this project on the former prison site would inevitably become a shrine to the IRA – a place where hunger strike and escape would always be remembered.

That mood is best captured in the Portadown Times comments from MP David Simpson – “I was determined no shrine should be built at the Maze in any shape or form that would add to the deep hurt of victims’ families. Grassroots unionists wanted nothing to do with any shrine on that site. The leadership finally listened to the people.”

Robinson’s decision and its implications have a much wider context and ramifications.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness – Robinson’s principal partner in government – knew nothing of the letter.

So far, he has been measured in his response calling it a “mistake”, but maybe a clearer indication of mood is offered by another significant republican figure who described the DUP leader’s correspondence as “a letter bomb from Florida”.

In his writing and in his use of the veto on the Maze/ Long Kesh Peace Centre, the First Minister demolished a gable end of the Programme for Government 2011-15 – as outlined below:


Programme for Government 2011-15 (page 33)


So the political implications are obvious. McGuinness has been undermined and will clearly want answers and explanations when he meets Robinson in a publicly announced meeting in New York on September 9.

This will determine the political mood ahead of the upcoming Haass talks on flags, parades and the past.

The potential backdrop is not just the standoff over the MLK Peace Centre project but a deepening crisis of confidence at the very heart of the Executive.

If McGuinness cannot persuade Robinson to resile from his letter from America what then? Are we into a bout of dangerous tit-for-tat politics – or worse?

A common thread within the Republician community is ‘no Peace Centre – no Maze development.’

It should be made clear this has not been stated as a Sinn Fein position, but clearly there is the prospect of the implications of the Robinson veto stretching far beyond the frame of politics.

Eamonnmallie.com can reveal the depth of concern inside the Maze/ Long Kesh Development Corporation with at least three, perhaps four members of the Corporation doubtful if they will still be on the board by Christmas.

One insider said – “without access to the old prison and the Peace Centre being constructed – the entire logic of everything done so far disappears.

“The entire business case and branding were centred around the symbolic significance of the prison and the Peace Centre. Once you remove them – you have to completely redo the business case and marketing strategy.”


First Minister Peter Robinson, Terence Brannigan and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Image from Belfast Newsletter


The MLK fallout is only one part of this developing and deepening crisis.

For a year now, street politics have overshadowed Stormont politics in a classic example of the tail wagging the dog.

In rows over the reduced flying of the Union flag on Belfast City Hall and continuing marching disputes, Republicans have been accused of “cultural war”.

The street has been stirred up by unelected forces, and in that play the PSNI and the Parades Commission have taken a battering.

We are watching positioning – part of the context to do with elections and votes.

A senior Loyalist speaking to this website said the Orange Order knows it has lost control of the situation in north Belfast and the standoff there over the Twelfth decision not to allow the return parade to pass Ardoyne.

“The PUP have taken over,” the source said – “part of their election campaign.”

He went on to make this wider observation.

“We need to break the impasse here. The wrong people are dictating and the right people are doing nothing.”

The source also had strong words for Sinn Fein on the City Hall flag decision and recent commemoration of the IRA’s dead in Tyrone.

“They are pushing the boat out,” the senior Loyalist said.

“It’s making our lives miserable, never mind our jobs hard.”

What we have outlined is the toxic mix polluting and poisoning the political atmosphere.


The Maze prison

The Maze prison


Our conclusions are as follows:

1)  More important than the Haass talks is the McGuinness/Robinson meeting in New York on September 9 because it will set the tone  and mood for everything else.

2)  McGuinness needs to turn Robinson. It’s a credibility issue in terms of partnership or power-sharing government and the key aspect of joint decision-making.

3)  Robinson appears trapped with no Maze manoeuvre room.

4)  In this stalemate the whole MLK development is in danger, not just the Peace Centre but every brick.

5)  In that scenario, Haass arrives with a full-scale political battle raging within the political institutions.

6)  There are a number of options. Politics jogs on the spot until after the next elections or the two governments join Haass in another hothouse negotiation.

Much depends on how the crisis is managed by Robinson and McGuinness.

Do they try to keep their obvious differences private until after Haass or does this play out publicly?

Our view would be that they will not be capable of  keeping the lip on this, given the confidence gulf that obtains.

We are not just looking at a row over the MLK project but at something much more serious.

This is about how politics here functions or fails.

The political edifice at Stormont is built with bricks, but could easily be reduced to a house of straw.

Haass is a crucial and key dialogue, but second in importance to that New York meeting scheduled for September 9.


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  1. I think that Richard Haass has been touted as some great white hope. I am not sure the politicians could sell a deal to the people now as a disillusionment with politics has not crept in but was arrived by steamroller. The gulf is now too wide and already I can hear the word traitor being practised so that it can be brought to bear upon the party or individual who dares to compromise. Richard Haass is most likely a decent man but I think when he leaves here he will repeat the words of that famous politician Reginald Maudling “What a bloody awful country – bring me a large whiskey.”

  2. The symptoms change from week to week but the cause is our past which is literally holding our future captive. A fear of betraying our forefathers seems to be at the crux of our inability to move on. Forefathers are an extremely important part of our collective culture. Loyalists and unionists celebrate the victories of their forefathers; the siege of Derry, the battle of the Boyne and the Somme through to those in State organizations like the UDR, RUC and British Army. However this respect for the sacrifices of the past has at times created a niggling fear that each generation could be the one to ‘fail Ulster’. Forefathers are equally respected in the Nationalist/Republican and Nationalist tradition, from the United Irish Men, the 1916 Easter rising through to the much more contentious IRA volunteers. There is a custom of remembering and respecting the Irish ‘patriot dead’.

    Many of our forefathers are long since dead but their grievances live on, profoundly shaping the culture of our entire community. Each side is so scared of betraying their forefathers/patriot dead that we’ve forgotten we are forefathers to generations to come. Perhaps the most profound way to honour our forefathers here and now is to let their victories and defeats rest in peace with them. Can we honour forefathers in new ways, not by picking up their grievances but by taking up a new cause? To offer more creative ways of remembering, commemorating and celebrating.

    A difficult but brave move is needed by leaders on both sides to give permission to the community that they no longer have to be trapped by a fear of betraying the past. This gives space to focus on being forefathers ourselves and to creating new things to be celebrated by our children’s children over the next 400 odd years.
    This is all still a bit visionary but a start would be introducing some of this language and thinking into the public square. Practically could something be run for young fathers/fathers-to-be (‘For fathers’) in loyalist/republican areas – a way to help them look back at the influence of previous generations and to help them determine what impact they want to have on their children’s generation?

    Let’s not become so concerned with cultural preservation that we miss creating new shared culture in the here and now. We need to dream big.

  3. Just like The Proclaimers song Mr Robinson penned ‘a letter from America’ telling how he would stand up to the TUV and UUP, yet what he has actually done and is doing is following a dangerous agenda they have set for him – evidence perhaps of weak political leadership but much much more as you have both outlined in your joint analysis.

    The internal wranglings, u-turns and conflicts regarding the Maze/Long Kesh Peace Centre and various other deals and arrangements (including Girdwood) I feel demonstrate that the Democratic Unionist Party can no longer mask what is really going on within their party to the rest of us.

    Basically fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement they as a party are unable to offer genuine alternatives and are effectively incapable of political leadership – they are
    openly unreceptive to equality, co-existence and the promotion of human rights.

    I believe that they are now struggling with power sharing, partnership working and collective responsibility and all that this should entail – their contempt for Sinn Fein,
    for example, is no longer hidden. They have also within their ranks a number of influential hard-core and extremist representatives who are either too cosy with paramilitarism, on-going street protests and the loyal orders – and this is worrying in terms of stability, public confidence and credibility.

    As a party they have remained as a discreet and serious blockage to tangible progress despite public displays of endorsement – the MLK now a prime example of ‘stalemate’ politics. They have engaged and acted as a behind the scenes catalyst for unionist/loyalist upheaval and wider communal instability stemming from the Good Friday Agreement through to St Andrews, Hillsborough and native violence.

    This resistance and disconcerting element should not be able to dictate potential
    progress with the forthcoming Haass all-party talks. And as Brian Feeney pointed out in his Irish News column recently: ‘Haass must try to find out who the DUP members at the table are really speaking for and whether the Orange Order and UVF have a veto on progress.’

    You are absolutely right in how this situation will be managed as the situation at present is extremely fragile. Dialogue is key to moving forward.

  4. They are all clowns, hunger strikers did not die for peace, they died for political status, united, mmg for his ego empires jobs for themselves alone.. get lost.

  5. United Ireland. Why are the sinners working for brits, stop using the dead for power. Maze let the dead rest all about grants useing victim’s stop it.

  6. It’s hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

    Quote by Thomas Sowell

  7. Let me get this right Sinn Fein would scupper the possibility of 5,000 jobs at the Long Kesh site to defend a Peace Centre that’s estimated to generate 70. Says everything about Sinn Fein doesn’t it. They care not for NI just their narrow republican vision.

  8. The more things change the more they appear to stay the same. While both communities are moving slowly through the current post Good Friday Agreement process towards a more stable and peaceful society, we must remember that a lack of paramilitary violence does not denote peace just a lack of paramilitary violence.

    We appear to be living in a time warp .Have we returned to a pre 1969 political regime on the hill just with more nationalists and republicans walking through the corridors of power?

    Are the old backwoods men yesterdays relics of times gone bye still harking back to the old days of Chichester Clarke ?

    All the political leaders where given a new dispensation with the GFA to move forward to embrace a shared future but what have they done?

    Very little. Our administration administrating Tory cuts via austerity at what is basically a large council based at Parliament Buildings.

    The stipend given to NI for the local reps to fight over how the cake is carved up and where the monies are spent.

    Are some of our elected ministers using their positions of power to continue to act as patrons for their communities ?

    Using their departmental resources to promote their own communities?

    The Maze Long Kesh Peace Centre?

    Its simple. The PUL Community dont want it.

    The Nationalsit/Repubican Community want to remember their history.

    The Maze/Long Kesh Site is probably one of the few spaces in this divided little sectarian cesspool that was truly shared.
    That has a shared history both Loyalist and Republican!

    While Unionism digs in its heels and tries to Kanute Style hold back the tide of change we will never truly as a society move forward.

    With a lack of leadership a lack of compromise and a lack of vision and perhaps with an eye on the past and on votes in the future true peace stability and prosperity will never come to the North.

    Unionism appears to be fighting tooth and nail to preserve some outdated vision of how things should be.

    The political class of AH IF ONLY!

    They need to wake up take a deep breathe acknowledge divergence and stop trying to constantly renegotiate the GFA and rewind history.

    Lets go forward together!

  9. It’s all about power for the Orange Order and it’s oath to prevent encroachment of the Roman Catholic Church.
    How many DUP and UUP MLAs are members of the Orange Order and/or other Loyal Orders? And they are in a majority and have been to date.
    Unless that power is broken by putting them in a position where they are no longer a majority and able to veto everything there will be no change in Northern Ireland.
    Although the UK and Eire governments seem loath to get involved despite being guarantors of the GFA with so many of its undelivered promises, the only viable option appears to be joint sovreighty/governance,Otherwise we will just stagger on with the same old, same old from one crisis to the next. Have a look at the posts on eurofree3.wordpress.com

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