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.
Learn More Here
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.
A selection of clips from the archive exploring the theme from different perspectives.
Certain things were forged that later had great political weight
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
A lot of the peace process took place in here
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?
Links to NI Curriculum
CCEA GCSE History: Unit 1; Section B; Option 2: Changing Relations: Northern Ireland and its Neighbours, 1965–1998
CCEA GCSE Government and Politics: Unit 2: International Politics in Action
Questions based on GCSE CEA history exam papers
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.
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.
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.