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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Prison plans 'still doing time'
Crumlin Road jail closed in 1996
Crumlin Road jail closed in 1996
With most of Northern Ireland's paramilitary prisoners out of jail, BBC News Online looks at the debate over the future of two of the province's most notorious prisons.

There has been much speculation about the future of Northern Ireland's two most infamous jails.

But while delegates at a conference this week discussed plans for the Crumlin Road jail, the future of it and the Maze prison will ultimately be decided by Northern Ireland's governing executive.

The Crumlin Road jail in north Belfast was closed in 1996. The Public Record Office had shown an earlier interest in the deteriorating Victorian prison, but so far nothing has materialised.

The future of the Crumlin Road Courthouse, opposite the jail, is also undecided.
Geraldine Wilkins
Geraldine Wilkins: Welcoming ideas

The building - the scene of some of Northern Ireland's most infamous trials - has only been used to stage a play since it closed in 1998.

The Maze Prison near Lisburn in County Antrim, which held many of Northern Ireland's most notorious paramilitary killers during the Troubles, is now empty.

Most republican and loyalist prisoners were released in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement peace accord.

The last four prisoners were transferred from the prison in September 2000.

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

Tourism aspect

Residents in north Belfast are now hoping to turn the Crumlin Road jail into a money-spinning tourism project.

A conference on Wednesday gave interested parties the chance to put their heads together and make plans for the listed building.


The discussion around preserving at least part of the jail as a museum has been around for a while

Geraldine Wilkins
North Belfast Tourism Project

Co-ordinator of the North Belfast Tourism Project Geraldine Wilkins said there was a lot of interest in the jail and that its historical importance should be preserved.

"The discussion around preserving at least part of the jail as a museum has been around for a while," she said.

"There is a lot of interest in that, but there is also a lot of ideas about developing the tourism aspect of the jail - for example by exploring family genealogy."

Other ideas include using the jail as a resource for young people and as a meditation centre.

"There are wacky and also very practical ideas - which is what we want," said Ms Wilkins.

Three blocks

The group said the project to restore the jail was massive and decisions would be made at a ministerial level about its ownership and future.

However, the Northern Ireland Prisons Service said no plans had been made for the future of the Crumlin Road jail or the Maze Prison.

A spokesman told BBC News Online: "With only two other male adult prisons in Northern Ireland, we need to maintain contingency accommodation.

"There are three blocks out of the eight at the Maze being kept for that purpose.


With only two other male adult prisons in Northern Ireland, we need to maintain contingency accommodation

Northern Ireland Prisons Service

"This is not in the event of going back to civil strife, but in case accommodation is lost because of a fire or a riot.

"As long as the Maze is being used for contingency accommodation, we will make no plans for its future."

About three prison officers are stationed at the Maze and are responsible for helping maintain the three blocks. Security for the prison is under an external security company.

"The Prisons Service has never had a thought about possible use for the Maze," said the spokesman.

"There has been much speculation and some crazy ideas by other people, but we own it and there are no plans for the near to foreseeable future."

'Moral right'

The Prisons Service is currently engaged in a strategic state review to look at long-term needs and requirements for the department.


These landowners may not have a legal right to the land, but there is a moral right

Jeffrey Donaldson Lagan Valley MP

"When concluded, it may have an impact on the Maze and Belfast. But that is some time off from reporting. It may be some time next year before it is concluded," said the service spokesman.

Ulster Unionist Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, whose constituency includes the Maze Prison, said consideration should be given to those whose land was vested for the site prior to its construction.

"These landowners may not have a legal right to the land, but there is a moral right," he said.

"The landowners are entitled to some recognition, considering what the local community there has had to put up with over the past 30 years."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Conor McAuley:
"Closed in 1996, the Crumlin Road jail still has a foreboding presence"
See also:

29 May 01 | N Ireland
07 Aug 00 | N Ireland
27 Jul 00 | N Ireland
27 Mar 01 | N Ireland
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