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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 July 2007, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Poots 'over-ruled' on Maze site
A multi-seater stadium is planned for Northern Ireland
A multi-seater stadium is planned for Northern Ireland
Sports Minister Edwin Poots is coming under pressure from within the DUP over his support for a multi-sports stadium at the former Maze prison site.

He has been over-ruled by senior figures who told him to amend a statement he intended to release in which he backed the County Antrim site.

A 35,000-seater stadium for soccer, GAA and rugby is planned at the Maze, but opponents prefer a location in Belfast.

The BBC has been unable to contact Mr Poots who is on holiday in the US.

Mr Poots has come under public pressure from senior figures in the DUP who are opposed to his decision to impose a deadline on alternative proposals to the Maze.

That deadline passed last weekend.

The Maze site is in Edwin Poots constituency
The Maze site is in Edwin Poots constituency

On Wednesday, the government published a technical report on the site selection process from which the Maze was chosen as the preferred location for the stadium.

The BBC understands Mr Poots wanted to release an accompanying statement which claimed the report confirmed why he had no alternative but to endorse a previous decision to back the Maze.

However, senior elements in the party intervened.

BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Gareth Gordon said: "Instead of being a ringing endorsement of the Maze, the statement which appeared in Mr Poots' name, merely noted the report's publication and recommended that anyone interested should read it. "

Belfast City Council said it had received a letter from Mr Poots with regard to a deadline for submitting plans for the new stadium - three days after the deadline passed.

A council spokesperson said: "We were aware from media reports that the minister Edwin Poots had apparently set a date for the end of June.

"Council officers also met Mr Poots recently and no mention of a deadline was made during that meeting.

"The fact is that we received no written notification of the deadline or details about the minister's information requirements until today."

Last month, a row erupted after the DUP's Nigel Dodds said keeping parts of the jail amounted to "a shrine to IRA hunger strikers".

However, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said there were no proposals to establish a shrine to paramilitaries at the site of the former Maze prison.

Mr Poots had dismissed the criticism from his DUP colleague, saying unionists would not support it if the green light was also given for a conflict transformation centre retaining one of the H-Blocks.

Gareth Gordon reports

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