UUP leader says North needs a new ‘inclusive’ covenant

Nesbitt proposes international mental health centre as alternative to Maze peace centre

The Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt has proposed the creation of an international mental health centre as an alternative to the Maze peace and reconciliation centre.

Mr Nesbitt told his party's annual conference in Belfast today that it was a campaign led by the UUP that prompted First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson to withdraw support for the reconciliation centre at the old Maze prison site.

He told delegates he wanted a new covenant for Northern Ireland, "but this time, an inclusive one, one for everybody, unionist, nationalist, republican, whatever".

“We know how to conduct a successful campaign. We forced Peter Robinson into a massive U-Turn on the Maze, and we did it without a riot, without street protests, without so much as a white line protest. Brains, not brawn,” he said.


Mr Nesbitt said that withdrawal of support had created the current tensions between the DUP and Sinn Fein, which has been agitating for the creation of the peace and reconciliation centre.

“The Maze proposal was wrong because it put too much emphasis on the victim-makers and trampled on the sensitivities of those they hurt,” said Mr Nesbitt. “Our focus must always be on those who were given no choice about becoming a victim.”

He added that he wanted to address “some thoughts” to republicans on dealing with the past.

He said: "To Gerry Adams, who says he was never in the IRA; to Gerry Kelly, who shot a prison warder in the head, yet claims it was not an act of terrorism; to Martin McGuinness who told the £200 million Saville Inquiry (into Bloody Sunday) there are some parts of his past he will not discuss 'under any circumstances'.

“To Messrs Adams, Kelly & McGuinness and the rest, I have this simple message: you’re not always right, you know. And you won’t always get your way, you know. Because we’re not going away, you know.”

Mr Nesbitt said what was missing from the debate was an alternative to the Maze peace centre proposal. He wanted an alternative “that addresses the hidden legacy of the Troubles - poor mental health and well-being” in which he was sorry to report “we are world-leaders”.

He proposed the creation of an international mental health centre that would be a global centre of excellence to help those who suffer trauma, whatever the cause. “I am talking about the best in the world,” he said.

However, rather than locating this proposed centre at the Maze site he suggested it should be established at a 15,000 square feet building called Ormiston set on a 13 acres site which was in public ownership close to Stormont.

In his speech he also accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of engaging in a power "carve-up at the heart of government". He added that while the Belfast Agreement enshrined the right of republicans to persuade him he'd be better off out of the United Kingdom "all available data suggests very few, on either side of our traditional divide are so persuaded".

“Frankly, I believe history will record that among the many things the IRA blew away was the chance for a United Ireland,” he said.

Mr Nesbitt also called for children to be educated together to "inoculate them against the poison of sectarianism", adding, "I challenge the Catholic Church - and every church and interest body: tell me what your problem is with a single education system. I see no issue we cannot resolve.

“If there is something that works for the children in your sector, then I want it for all our children.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times