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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
Back to jail for politicians
Conor Murphy and David Ervine
Prisoners turned politicians in Maze cell
The once notorious Maze prison is lying empty and the Northern Ireland Executive has yet to decide its fate.

Two former opposing inmates returned to the jail to outline their views on its future to BBC NI political correspondent Mark Simpson.

They both looked uncomfortable as they slowly walked past the box-shaped cells which they used to call home.

What was making them feel uneasy? Memories of being locked up at night? A reminder of all those lost years? A sense of guilt at their crimes?

Have your say on the prison's future here

No, the immediate source of discomfort seemed to be the fact that they were both wearing shirts, ties, and suits.

For David Ervine and Conor Murphy, this jail was no stranger.

It has historical significance and should be kept

Conor Murphy
Sinn Fein

What was odd, however, was walking down one of the wings dressed in a smart suit.

As they met in one of the H-Blocks, they shook hands without hesitation.

The conversation then immediately turned to the issue of clothes, as they remarked on how different their appearance was now compared to those scruffy years as an inmate.

The smart suits are, of course, part of their new uniform as members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The journey from the Maze to Stormont is about half an hour in a car, but for these two men it has taken two decades.


Conor Murphy is a republican from south Armagh.

He was sentenced in 1982 to five years in prison for IRA membership and possessing explosives. Nowadays, he is a Sinn Fein assembly member for Newry and Armagh.
David Ervine
David Ervine wants prison "bulldozed".

David Ervine is an east Belfast loyalist. He was jailed in 1975 for transporting a bomb in a stolen car.

He was released in 1980. Today he represents east Belfast in the assembly and is the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party.

What the two men have in common is that their time in the Maze prison played a significant part in their lives.

And when it comes to discussing the future of the jail, they both have strong feelings.

Conor Murphy wants it kept as a museum.

"I think that one of the H-blocks, and the hospital block, should be kept as a historical site to visit.

"Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, Robben Island in South Africa are examples of prisons which are areas of interest which are significant attractions, not in a glitzy tourist attraction type way, but for people who want to study what went on during the conflict.

"I'm not suggesting that this become a shrine to republicanism or to the hunger-strikers, but it would be an area of significant interest for visitors.

"It has historical significance and should be kept."

'Bulldoze it'

David Ervine has his doubts.

Looking down one of the long corridors, he says: "I have no desire to bring my children or my grandchildren here.

"I have no desire to justify or legitimise a dirty stinking war because when you justify dirty stinking wars of the past, you leave options for people to fight dirty stinking wars of the future.
The Maze prison
The H-Blocks housed paramilitary prisoners

"My view is bulldoze it - put something here that is wonderful and bring your children and bring your grandchildren and give them something that is about their future and not from my torrid past."

Both men like the idea that part of the site could be turned into a sports stadium.

Geographically, it is well placed, being close to the M1 and not too far from Belfast.

But this is no ordinary location. It is a place where many people died - including a prison officer killed in the 1983 break-out; loyalist inmate Billy Wright was shot dead by republicans in 1997 and 10 republicans - including Bobby Sands - died on hunger-strike in 1981.

In all, 29 prison officers died during the Troubles and many believe their views need to be taken into account when it comes to planning the way ahead for the Maze.

As Conor Murphy and David Ervine left the prison on their recent visit, they both said they had "mixed emotions" coming back. Some good memories, some bad.

"I've been in better places but never with better people," said Conor Murphy.

At Stormont, views about the jail are less sympathetic.

The museum option does not have much support within the SDLP, Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP, and the bulldozer option seems much more likely.

But ministers at Stormont have yet to come to a decision.

The demolition team is on hold - the jury is still out.

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See also:

07 Aug 00 | N Ireland
27 Jul 00 | N Ireland
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