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Last Updated: Monday, 30 October 2006, 11:57 GMT
Work begins on Maze prison site
The initial demolition work began on "Cage 20"
The initial demolition work began on "Cage 20"
Work to transform the former Maze prison site in County Antrim into a proposed national stadium has begun.

The government's proposals for the 360 acre site near Lisburn include a 42-000 seat multi-sports arena and "centre for conflict transformation".

Work is under way to demolish the Old Nissen huts, where hundreds of people were held without trial in 1971.

The Maze was once the main prison in Northern Ireland for sentenced republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

Most prisoners were released in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement.

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

'Mission to transform'

On Monday, the initial demolition work began on "Cage 20", which housed republican prisoners.

The demolition is expected to take more than a year to complete, with the second phase beginning early next year with the clearing of the main site.

However, one of the H-blocks is to be retained. Concrete will be crushed and recycled in the new construction.

H6, the prison hospital, where the republican hunger strikers died in 1981, and a compound, will be preserved.

Plans for the Maze site include retaining one of the H-blocks
One of the H-blocks is to be retained

Northern Ireland Office minister David Hanson said: "Clearing the site will be part of the mission to transform it into a symbol of economic and social regeneration, renewal and growth."

Mr Hanson added: "The demolition of the Maze/Long Kesh, leaving only those former prison buildings which have been given statutory protection, marks a further step towards achieving the goal of a new future for the site, a future that can be shared by the whole community."

The beginning of the demolition work was welcomed by the Maze/Long Kesh Monitoring Group.

Its chair, DUP assembly member Edwin Poots, said: the work signified "a clear demonstration that the Maze/Long Kesh proposals are gathering further momentum and represent a major step forward to reshape this site".

Mr Poots said Sinn Fein had given an assurance that the conflict transformation centre would not become "a republican shrine".

Vice chair, Sinn Fein's Paul Butler, said the listed prison buildings "can play a huge role in the transformation from conflict to peace".

Gareth Gordon reports on the demolition

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