Nesbitt says he forced Robinson’s Maze U-turn

UUP leader proposes international mental health centre as alternative

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt listens to a performance by the Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band during his party’s annual conference in Belfast. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt listens to a performance by the Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band during his party’s annual conference in Belfast. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye.


The Ulster Unionist Party forced First Minister Peter Robinson into a “massive U-turn” on the proposed Maze peace and reconciliation centre, party leader Mike Nesbitt told his annual party conference in Belfast at the weekend.

Mr Nesbitt proposed that an international mental health centre should be created as an alternative to the centre, but at a different site close to Stormont in east Belfast.

Mr Nesbitt said it was a campaign led by the UUP that prompted Mr Robinson, in the absence of consensus, to withdraw support for the reconciliation centre at the old Maze prison site.

“We know how to conduct a successful campaign. We forced Peter Robinson into a massive U-turn on the Maze, and we did it without a riot, without street protests, without so much as a white line protest. Brains, not brawn,” he said.

Mr Robinson’s withdrawal of support has created the current tensions between the DUP and Sinn Féin, which has been campaigning for the creation of the peace and reconciliation centre.

“The Maze proposal was wrong because it put too much emphasis on the victim-makers and trampled on the sensitivities of those they hurt,” said Mr Nesbitt. “Our focus must always be on those who were given no choice about becoming a victim.”

Dealing with the past
He added that he wanted to address “some thoughts” to republicans on dealing with the past. “To Gerry Adams, who says he was never in the IRA; to Gerry Kelly, who shot a prison warder in the head, yet claims it was not an act of terrorism; to Martin McGuinness who told the £200 million Saville Inquiry [into Bloody Sunday] there are some parts of his past he will not discuss ‘under any circumstances’. To Messrs Adams, Kelly and McGuinness and the rest, I have this simple message: you’re not always right, you know. And you won’t always get your way, you know. Because we’re not going away, you know.”

Mr Nesbitt said what was missing from the debate was an alternative to the Maze peace centre proposal. He favoured an option “that addresses the hidden legacy of the Troubles – poor mental health and wellbeing”, in which “we are world leaders”.

Centre of excellence
He proposed the creation of an international mental health centre that would be a global centre of excellence to help those who suffer trauma, whatever the cause. “I am talking about the best in the world,” he said.

However, rather than locating this proposed centre at the Maze site, he suggested it should be established at a 1,393sq m (15,000sq ft) building called Ormiston, set on a five-hectare (13-acre) site which is in public ownership close to Stormont.

In his speech he also accused the DUP and Sinn Féin of engaging in a power “carve-up at the heart of government”. He added that while the Belfast Agreement enshrined the right of republicans to persuade him he’d be better off out of the United Kingdom, “all available data suggests very few, on either side of our traditional divide, are so persuaded”.

“Frankly, I believe history will record that among the many things the IRA blew away was the chance for a united Ireland,” he said.

Mr Nesbitt also called for children to be educated together to “inoculate them against the poison of sectarianism”, adding: “I challenge the Catholic Church, and every church and interest body – tell me what your problem is with a single education system.”

He told delegates he wanted a new covenant for Northern Ireland, “but this time, an inclusive one, one for everybody, unionist, nationalist, republican, whatever”.