Demolition starts on N Ireland's infamous Maze jail

BELFAST - Bulldozers have begun demolishing Northern Ireland's notorious Maze prison, which once housed the most dangerous guerrillas from both sides of the province's three-decade sectarian conflict.

The prison has been empty since 2000 following the release of most guerrilla prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement, which ushered relative peace into the British province after 30 years of fighting in which 3600 people died.

The prison has since stood empty, although "in cold storage" in case the conflict re-ignited.

Once home to some of the most dangerous men in Europe, a new multi-sports stadium, equestrian centre, hotel, shopping and leisure complex is proposed on the 360-acre site, located on the main road to Dublin from Belfast in County Antrim.

The redevelopment has sparked fierce controversy in Northern Ireland, where politicians are struggling to agree a deal on self-rule that would see pro-British and pro-Irish enemies share power in a local assembly.

The plan proposes turning some of the former prison buildings, including the hospital where 10 prisoners died on hunger strike in 1981 and one of eight so-called "H-Block" cell complexes, into an international centre for conflict study.

Many pro-British unionists fear the "Conflict Transformation Centre" will be turned into a shrine to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which waged a lengthy armed campaign against British rule in an effort to unite the province with Ireland.

- REUTERS

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