World Heritage bid for Long Kesh site

Lisburn Councillor Paul Butler has called for the vacant Long Kesh prison to be recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The groundbreaking move by the former H-Block prisoner could see the historic site recognised globally alongside Robben Island and Auschwitz.

Cllr Butler’s proposal emerged as Coiste na n-Íarchimí held a public meeting on its plans for a peace campus, incorporating a museum, at the Long Kesh site.

Among the participants at Conway Mill were leading academics Louise Purbrick from Brighton University and Gerard Corsane from Newcastle University.

Mr Corsane is the former co-ordinator for the Robben Island training programme that seeks to fast-track professional training in museum skills for young black South Africans.

Mr Corsane identified a range of benefits that accrued from the transformation of Robben Island into a museum and conference centre – not least “the role of Robben Island in nation-building”.

He also said that the island has become “a significant site in terms of the revision of history and it made a lot of South Africans realise that while there was an official history, there were also repressed histories”.

“Robben Island is a symbol for human rights and reconciliation, and although it is a contested site it has played a crucial role in challenging key issues around human rights.”

Mr Corsane warned that any museum at Long Kesh would have to “strike a balance between turning it into a product and the poly-vocality of the process” of representing history.

Historian Louise Purbrick told the meeting that “it is really, really hard to underestimate the need for the force of evidence to understand a conflict”.
“Museums are part of that process of making things real.

“Long Kesh is evidence of conflict. How it is then interpreted is up to people here,” she said.

Ms Purbrick suggested that a museum at Long Kesh could act as a starting point for conflict resolution.

“I do feel that the significance of a building is related to its importance to the community.

“What I want to suggest is that preserving the actual site where that history happened is an important process.”

She said that the cultural challenge of the formation of a museum does in itself make the end result “more egalitarian, more equal, more productive and more progressive”.

Mike Ritchie, Director of Coiste na n-Íarchimí, pledged that the group’s peace campus proposal would be inclusive and progressive.

The plan encompasses proposals for a museum, a conflict resolution centre, an administrative and convention centre, and a peace park.

Each element is designed to facilitate the needs of historical demands, educational and learning needs, political opportunities, and support for victims and survivors.

Now Sinn Féin’s Paul Butler believes that the future of the site can best be served through an application to UNESCO.

“The site of Long Kesh should now be recognised as a World Heritage Site, and we in Sinn Féin believe that such a submission should now be made.

“In terms of the history of the site, it is as important to Ireland as Robben Island is to South Africa.

“I have also approached the Department of the Environment’s Heritage Service in a bid to ensure the site is preserved.

“While this matter is being processed at present, and the Department of the Environment have approached the matter with an open mind, it is vitally important from a historic and cultural perspective that this happens,” said Cllr Butler.

Journalist:: Jarlath Kearney

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