Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

The possibility of creating a Troubles museum in Northern Ireland may be investigated by an independent commission later this year.

Unionists and republicians differ over the use of the Maze jail

Government sources have told the BBC the move is being considered as part of the Secretary of State Paul Murphy's consultation on how people in the province can deal with the past.

The idea of a Troubles museum is not new, however, the political and moral sensitivities of the conflict have led to problems in moving the plan forward.

Some years ago, local trade unionists suggested Belfast should have a "Museum of Citizenship" mirroring Los Angeles' "Museum of Tolerance" which attempts to draw positive lessons from both the holocaust and the history of racial conflict in the United States.

Much of the recent debate about a Troubles museum has concentrated on sites like the Maze jail, which housed the ten IRA hunger strikers.

Republicans believe the prison must be preserved for posterity, but many unionists want it razed to the ground.

Crumlin Courthouse has a tunnel linking to the jail across the road

Others, such as Irish News Political Correspondent Billy Graham, argue that any Troubles museum should be in a new building shorn of political associations.

Mr Graham believes such a museum should be a striking piece of new architecture featuring new interactive technology which might appeal to younger generations and point as much to the future as the past.

The downside of a new building, however, is that it could not match the genuine sense of the past provided by a Troubles landmark.

Besides the Maze, the future of north Belfast's Crumlin Road jail is now under discussion.


The jail is being prepared for re-development as part of the government's Reinvestment and Reform Initiative.

In January, the Northern Ireland Office Minister, Ian Pearson, announced that just under £4m raised from the sale of other government property would be made available for the jail's regeneration.

The jail was the scene of breakouts, bombings and rooftop protests during the Troubles.

But it has a longer history, stretching back to Victorian times.

It contains the unmarked graves of prisoners executed within the grounds and a tunnel which runs under the Crumlin Road linking it to the courthouse on the other side of the road.

Property developer Barry Gilligan, who owns the courthouse, argues that properly re-developed, the Crumlin Road complex could rival Alcatraz as a visitor attraction.

The Irish Government waited 60 years to develop Kilmainham Jail

Historians, archivists and museum curators will no doubt welcome the debate about a Troubles museum.

But they warn that there is more to creating a museum than just picking a building to house it in.

There are the technical realities of ensuring any building has the right conditions for the preservation and display of historic artifacts.

There is also the difficulty of telling the story of the Troubles in a way which is accessible to outsiders and acceptable to those who were touched directly by the conflict.

Belfast's Ulster Museum currently has an exhibition on conflict which culiminates with the Troubles.

Visitors can fill out feedback cards.

Some say they were moved or inspired, others accuse the museum of bias.

With such recent and painful history it is impossible to please all the people all the time.

Historian Jane Leonard points out that in Dublin, where Kilmainham jail is now an extremely popular museum, the government let the jail gather dust for 60 years before deciding to develop it as a monument to the Easter rising and the Irish Civil war.

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