Friday, 21 September 2007

The ‘H’ Blocks and Martin McGuinness

Northern Ireland is a place I have always tried to steer clear of. Its sectarian history and violence was appalling. Neither community, on both sides of the sectarian divide, gained anything from the long years of the troubles. Both appeared set in another era, fighting over alien, nonsensical religious and nationalist beliefs, which people outside their tumult could hardly begin or desire to understand. The peace was welcome and surprising and came after many years of hard bargaining. The politicians finally came to the realisation that continuance of ‘the troubles’ was simply a waste of time, resources and lives. The future prosperity of both communities depended on both sides working together and sharing power.
The infamous ‘H’ blocks of the Maze prison became the icon symbol of ‘the troubles’. Here, terrorists and murderers from both sides were imprisoned. The prison is now, thankfully, long since closed with all the prisoners released as part of the peace settlement. It now appears that the site is earmarked to become a 35000-seat sports stadium. Part of the site is also to become some sort of visitor centre commemorating ‘the troubles’. The Unionist side are apparently in uproar, arguing that it will be a shrine to terrorism. The Deputy First Minister, none other than Martin McGuinness said he was "not arguing for any kind of shrine.” He added, “If we want a conflict transformation centre then it has to concentrate on how we resolve conflict”.

So, this new centre will be for the study of conflict? If this is indeed its purpose, Martin McGuinness is absolutely correct to call for it. A 'conflict transformation centre' could be a hub for education and reconciliation. McGuinness displays a maturity, integrity and intelligence few would have thought possible and he should be commended for his attempts at unification and compromise.

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