The role of the Maze and Long Kesh in the peace process

During its lifetime, the Maze and Long Kesh was emblematic of the political conflict colloquially known as ‘the Troubles’. Yet, paradoxically, the prison also played a role in the negotiation of peace. Indeed, discussions and conversations took place here which later had critical implications for the development of what we now term as the ‘peace process’. Specific locations within the Maze and Long Kesh were particularly important in this regard. For example, whilst in compound 21, UVF Commander Gusty Spence renounced the use of violence and encouraged loyalists to adopt a political strategy. Upon his release in 1984 he became an important figure in the peace process, announcing the loyalist ceasefires of 1994. And from compound 11 a young Gerry Adams called for more political involvement from republicans. In 1974 a Camp Council was formed, comprised of the leaders of all political organisations in the compounds/ cages of Long Kesh. The Council facilitated dialogue across the various organisations and the discussion of common problems across the cages/ compounds.

Prisoners’ support of the 1998 peace talks was crucial to their success. In fact, on 9 January 1998, then British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam visited loyalist prisoners in the H-Blocks to persuade them to support the ongoing peace talks. On Friday 10 April 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was signed, one of the outcomes of which was the early release of prisoners from the Maze and Long Kesh. Significantly, a number of the signatories of the agreement had spent time ‘inside’ the prison. And today, a number of former prisoners occupy positions as Councillors, MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) and other public roles.

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CAIN

CAIN

The Agreement - Agreement reached in the multi-party negotiations (10 April 1998)

The Conversation

Good Friday Agreement: ten key people who helped bring about peace in Northern Ireland 20 years ago

Shirlow, P., Tonge, J., McAuley, J. and McGlynn, C. (2010).

Abandoning Historical Conflict? Former Political Prisoners and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010.

Parallel Stories

A selection of clips from the archive exploring the theme from different perspectives.

Certain things were forged that later had great political weight
John

Play Film

Watch all of the clips. Suggest some reasons why the Maze and Long Kesh Prison perhaps enabled progressive discussions that contributed to the development of the peace process.

This place, this site, this history, these memories are just far far too important to be brushed aside
Peter

Play Film

A lot of the peace process took place in here
William

Play Film

Watch all of the clips. Are you surprised at the role the Maze and Long Kesh Prison played in the development of the peace process? Why?

How do you bring a struggle to an end?
Seanna

Play Film

Links to NI Curriculum

01.
CCEA GCSE History: Unit 1; Section B; Option 2: Changing Relations: Northern Ireland and its Neighbours, 1965–1998

02.
CCEA GCSE Government and Politics: Unit 2: International Politics in Action

Questions based on GCSE CEA history exam papers

01.
Using the clip of Peter and your contextual knowledge, do you agree that political strategies that contributed to the peace process were developed in the Maze and Long Kesh Prison? Give one reason.

02.
How useful is the clip of John for an historian studying the development of the NI peace process? Explain your answer, using the clip and your contextual knowledge.

03.
How useful is the clip of Seanna for an historian studying the development of the NI peace process? Explain your answer, using the clip and your contextual knowledge.

Download our teacher's notes

Transcript

John

“When I was a young officer here, you know, so long ago, I never honestly thought that someday, you know, we’d come here like this. I never dreamt that the country would be as peaceful as it is now, thank God. And in a way, I suppose this is a fitting tribute to years of the peace process; that this place is like this. It’s closed, it’s falling apart. There’s a certain sadness to that, there’s a certain justice as well too. But you know, I really feel without this place, the peace process, somehow, no matter how far down the line, how many years it took, somehow, possibly the peace process may never have been born. Because this really was the womb that, I suppose, where a lot of the things that later came to fruition, for both ill and good, this is where many things were born. This is where, I suppose, certain things were forged that later had great political weight. Especially in the Blocks. But a lot of the people, people talk about the Blocks mostly, I suppose they’re…they’re the part of the Maze that’s in recent memory. But you really have to remember: an awful lot of the people who in actual fact became very influential actually in the Blocks started out here, this is where they came from. So their experiences here are in some ways to me more relevant than perhaps what happened to them in the Blocks because, I think in a lot of cases it just reaffirmed something or maybe strengthened something – or reinforced it – something that had already happened here. This is the place I think where a lot of history was laid. And the Blocks was the area where it was played out”

Transcript

Peter

This place, this site, this history, these memories are just far far too important to be brushed aside and to be forgotten. Because when future generations come to study the astonishing history of this conflict and how it moved towards what I think will be some kind of final resolution in the years ahead, what happened here and the seminal effect of this place on the people inside, the political ideas that came out of it, the strategies that came out of it, in particular on the republican side – Adams and the people in cage 11 – are absolutely vital.

Transcript

William

We had to have special visits in here for the peace process. A lot of the peace process took place in here. I mean we had to actually, for instance we had maybe 3 or 4 H-Blocks where we had prisoners scattered all over the place and we wanted to bring them all together. Well first of all we brought the commanders and leaders of each area together. And there was actually 12 of us, plus the representatives from outside which would have made about 20 people, and we would have took over the whole visiting room. We sat here for maybe a couple of hours, discussing the way forward on the peace process. And that took place, took place probably once a month, right up until the very very last, where we actually went to the gym. And we had a meeting of all UVF and Red Hand Commando prisoners in the gym in the prison. And people from, something like 20 people from outside came out from the leadership. And we all spoke to all the prisoners en masse in the prison gym which was unheard of, you know, at that time, where you had the leadership of an organisation going in to meet the leadership of the organisation inside. And not only the leadership, but all, every prisoner in the, every loyalist prisoner within the camp. So we, this prison has a lot of history to do with the peace process and not just to do with the actual prisons.

Transcript

Seanna

As far as I’m concerned, one of the main sort of….formative events in my view of the peace process and the, you know, the whole ceasefire, the ceasefire and everything that has come since then, happened here. In that it was during the discussions that we were having in the prison. And obviously there were parallel discussions going on on the outside about the merits and demerits of attempting this unarmed political strategy. And… at a period when things were fairly crucial, the leadership on the outside put in a request to the South Africans and asked that the South Africans come over and visit us and talk to us about their experiences and their knowledge of the negotiations process and the whole period of conflict resolution; how do you bring a struggle to an end? And for me that was massive, it really was. And… they ended up, they brought something like 120 of us down here, from all the different wings and the different blocks in the camp. They brought the women prisoners down from Maghaberry, at that time there were about 25 to 30 of the women comrades. And they brought in a delegation from the leadership outside. And they brought in these ANC guys. And one of them was a guy called Cyril Ramaphosa who is actually in the running for the succession of the leadership of the ANC, and I take it the presidency of South Africa, whenever Thabo Mbeki stands down. And the discussion and the debate that we had with these people was very very important in helping to convince me personally and also a lot of other people about the merits of the strategy that our leadership were then involved with. It was very very crucial at that particular period.