Irish Republican News · January 17, 2008
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Paisley ‘peace for land’ deal revealed

The Democratic Unionist Party’s Ian Paisley Jr used the peace process talks at St Andrews to push for a shopping list of property-based demands for his own constituents, it has emerged.

One of the demands focussed on planning permission for an interpretative centre at the famous Giant’s Causeway, a sensitive heritage landmark in northeast Antrim. The controversial development was backed by business figure and long time friend of the Paisleys, Seymour Sweeney.

On the final day of the negotiations, the British government was put under pressure to accept a range of constituency issues, including the Giant’s Causeway project.

The letter containing the demands also asked that a judicial review on the sale of lands in Ballee be dropped. The land is currently about to be sold by the British government in a deal that involves a range of business interests, again including Seymour Sweeney.

British Prime Minister said at the time he would try to respond positively to the letter.

The letter was made public under the Freedom of Information Act by Traditional Unionist MEP Jim Allister, a former DUP member opposed to power-sharing who is currently contesting a by-election in Dromore, County Down on behalf of his new political organisation.

Mr Paisley today has admitted he made “mistakes” in the controversy over his lobbying for constituency issues during the negotiating of the St. Andrews Agreement talks, but denied his efforts were linked to the talks process.

The Ballymena MP said the issue was “a distraction which has been blown out of all proportion”.

“Maybe I could have handled it better - everyone’s clever with 20-20 hindsight,” he told reporters today.

He later said he had no intention of resigning as a junior minister.

Mr Allister had accused Mr Paisley of “wasting valuable leverage on securing concessions from the prime minister no less, not on matters of importance to unionists, but on issues of mere commercial or constituency import.”

Among the issues raised was the Giant’s Causeway project and it was suggested private sector land should be included in its development.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said Mr Paisley had “questions to answer about his relationship with Seymour Sweeney”.

“When SF conduct our negotiations, our focus is on achieving for everyone that we represent, and even for those we don’t represent,” he said.

North Antrim Sinn Féin Assmebly member Daithi McKay said that members of the public will be astounded that two deals involving property developer Seymour Sweeney formed part of key DUP negotiations at St Andrews.

“The fact that one third of the items on the ‘shopping list’ Ian Paisley brought to the St Andrews negotiations involved the developer Seymour Sweeney speaks for itself.

“Mr Paisley was not upfront about his efforts to get land in Ballymena sold below market value, he was not upfront about his relationship with Seymour Sweeney when first questioned about it and he did not disclose that the Ballee land deal and Giant’s Causeway development formed part of negotiations.

“Ian Paisley has had over 4 months to be totally transparent about his relationship with Seymour Sweeney and has failed to do so. He has lost all credibility in the eyes of many members of the public.”

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© 2008 Irish Republican News