**from 15 Sept.

Tourist plan for infamous court in North
15/09/2003 - 15:37:35 Online.ie

A disused court where Northern Ireland’s most notorious terrorists were sentenced has more tourist potential than Alcatraz, it was claimed today.

As work began to remove heavy security fencing at the Crumlin Road complex in Belfast as part of a £10m (€14m) development scheme, the owner insisted it could rival the pulling power of San Francisco’s infamous prison.

Property developer Barry Gilligan has drawn up plans to turn 150 years of penal history into a world-class visitor attraction.

The Crumlin Road courthouse and jail – connected to one another by an underground tunnel – was the scene many high-profile trials during the Troubles.

But Mr Gilligan wants to return the listed building to how it looked on its opening in 1850, to unearth the full history.

Visitors could witness a mock trial and take an audio-visual tour of the courthouse and jail under the plans he is drawing up.

Even the hanging cell where many condemned men met their fate will be opened up to the public.

Mr Gilligan said: “I have been told there is more material in Crumlin Road courthouse and jail for a tourist attraction than Alcatraz.

“People think of it in terms of the recent conflict, but if you go back from 1970 there’s another 120 years of history before that.

“Just walking through the tunnel itself is an eerie but fascinating experience.”

A planning application has been submitted to turn part of the site into 65,000 square ft of new office space.

The rest would then be allocated to what the developer referred to as a “criminal justice trail”.

Britain's Environment and Heritage Service and tourist bodies in Belfast have backed his scheme.

In the first stage of his plan, workmen moved in today to bring down corrugated iron railings and metal gates erected to stop paramilitary gunmen opening fire on the courthouse at the height of the violence.

“This is a small but symbolic step,” said Mr Gilligan, who is also an independent member of the Policing Board which holds Northern Ireland’s new police service to account.

His main challenge is to secure a tenant. With the Public Records Office in south Belfast seeking new accommodation, he hoped to persuade its bosses to relocate on his refurbished premises.

Talks have also been held with British government officials about grant aid to restore the building to its former glories.

The future of the jail, which is owned by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland’s suspended Executive, has also come under discussion.

If these negotiations prove successful, Mr Gilligan claimed the whole project could be completed in just over a year and would be backed by all sides in Northern Ireland’s divided society.

“This is a shared history,” he stressed.

“The Crumlin Road courthouse and jail is not about one section of our community.

“They have both had bad experiences of it.”

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