The controversial peace centre at the site of a former prison for paramilitaries in Northern Ireland has been given the green light by planners.
Stormont’s Minister for Planning Alex Attwood has granted permission for the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze near Lisburn.
Ten republican prisoners died on hunger strike at the prison in the early 1980s.
Proposals for the facility have been the source of major political discord in the region, with many unionists unhappy that it could become a “shrine to terrorism”.
Former prison buildings, including the hospital block where the hunger strikers died, are being retained on the 350-acre site, although they will not form part of the peace centre.
Commenting on his decision, Minister Attwood said: “I have today granted permission for the proposed centre. There is learning to be taken from the conflict here. The centre can contribute to sharing this learning and perhaps to help inform the resolution of conflict in other places.
“I believe that good planning needs good design. That is certainly the case in the design of the Centre created by Daniel Libeskind, a world leader in architecture and a friend of Northern Ireland.”
Commenting on the speed of the planning decision Alex Attwood said: “I was able to grant planning permission for such a major scheme like this in less than six months. This is another example of the benefit of pro-active pre-application discussion and community consultation in dealing with major planning applications of regional significance, such as this. This will play a significant part in meeting a target of the EU funding programme and I am determined to continue making major planning decisions speedily and accurately and making a planning system more fit to achieve its purpose.”
The peace centre is being built with an £18 million European Union grant.
The approval of planning permission for the facility is set to spark fresh political debate, with unionists and republican politicians already clashing over how the story of the Troubles, in particular the hunger strikes, should be told.
The building was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, in conjunction with McAdam Design.