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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 21:41 GMT 22:41 UK
Tourist trap plans for former prison
Maze Prison
The prison held many of NI's most notorious paramilitaries
Farmers and community groups want to transform a former prison in County Antrim into a tourist attraction.

One of the enduring landmarks of 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland, options put forward for the now empty Maze prison include tourist facilities as well as a sports stadium, an agricultural centre, a private hospital or even a new village.

With the government inviting suggestions about what to do with the jail and Long Kesh security site, some believe that the Maze's notoriety could help to attract tourists from abroad.

A local rural group has estimated that the total cost of such a refurbishment could be more than 1bn.

Just clearing away the concrete and steel will cost millions of pounds.

The prison, which held many of the province's most notorious paramilitaries during the Troubles, closed in September 2000.

It was shut as a result of the Good Friday Agreement peace accord's early prisoner release scheme.

A cell in the Maze prison
Cells in the Maze prison could soon house more short-term visitors
Three wings of the prison have been kept on standby, but the front gate will close for the last time in just a few weeks.

Paramilitary prisoners are now held in Maghaberry prison in County Antrim.

Robert Poots, chairman of Laganside Rural Development, said the site could be used by European countries as an "outreaching post" for the US tourism market.

"Europe specifically has this area as a funding area, and that gives an opportunity to bring money into Northern Ireland," he said.

Edgar Jardine of the Maze Consultative Panel said they were at an early stage in the process.

"It is a very large site - some 360 acres - so there is a considerable range of options, which we hope will be trawled over the next few weeks and months," he said.

He said government funding would be crucial, but they also hoped to attract interest from the private sector.

Notorious prisons to be turned into visitor attractions include Alcatraz in San Francisco, and South Africa's Robben Island, which housed the country's future president Nelson Mandela for 18 years.

BBC NI rural affairs correspondent Martin Cassidy
"The cells and corridors have become deserted, but now there are plans to pack in more short term visitors"

Empey opposes jail museums
04 May 02  |  Northern Ireland
Maze 'ideal' for new police centre
04 Jul 02  |  Northern Ireland
The prison that served its time
27 Jul 00  |  Northern Ireland
Inside the Maze Prison
24 Jul 00  |  Northern Ireland


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