Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has called on Peter Robinson to provide an explanation of new revelations about a transaction with a leading property developer.
The latest claims by the BBC hinge on a deal which saw the Mr and Mrs Robinson buy a strip of land from a developer for five pounds, allowing them to later sell their back garden for almost 460 thousand pounds.
In a day which saw pressure mount on the first minister, with calls for an investigation into the Robinsons’ dealings with Fred Fraser, Mr McGuinness said the DUP leader “will have to deal with” the matter.
Mr Fraser was one of two developers who each loaned 25 thousand pounds to Mrs Robinson’s teenage lover in 2008 to open a business at the Lock Keeper’s Cottage on the banks of the Lagan.
An apparent failure to declare to the House of Commons that Mr Robinson owned the strip of land, and to Castlereagh Borough Council when planning permission for a linked housing development went before it, has led to claims that the First Minister’s “moral authority” has been undermined.
It has also added to existing allegations that Mr Robinson sought to conceal his wife’s financial involvement with the two developers.
The DUP insists the party leader has done nothing wrong and that the transaction was “never hidden”.
However, Mr McGuinness said yesterday that “there are responsibilities that Peter will have to deal with in terms of explanation”.
~We want to hear what he has to say about it,” Mr McGuinness said, adding that he would not “pass judgment” until the explanation was given.
TUV leader Jim Allister said there were questions to be answered about “why any hardnosed developer would sell a valuable piece of land for five pounds”.
“Has this happened before?” he asked. He said Mr Robinson was “remarkably fortunate to find such a developer to give him a valuable piece of land for five pounds”.
“Once questions are unanswered of that nature, it inevitably undermines his moral authority including his moral authority to govern,” Mr Allister said.
Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey said that Mr Robinson’s long experience as a councillor meant he should have known what needed to be declared and when.
Calling for an investigation into the matter, Empey said the land had been “effectively given for nothing~ .
“What is the nature of thet relationship [between the Robinsons and Mr Freser] and is it appropriate for a public representative to have a relationship that can effecttvely unlock 450,000 pounds of land for a public representative?”.
British Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said had “nothing further to add” to his previous support for Mr Robinson last month.
DUP BACKS HERMON
Meanwhile, the DUP has announced it will not be fielding a candidate in the upcoming British general election in North Down, currently represented by former Ulster Unionist turned independent Sylvia Hermon.
The party said it is still trying to come to an electoral arrangement with the Ulster Unionists over two seats currently represented by nationalists.
The DUP said it wanted to reach an agreement with the UUP over South Belfast and Fermanagh/South Tyrone.
It said it was doing so in the spirit of unionist cooperation.
The DUP have only said that they are desperate to see an agreed unionist candidate but its understood they will not endorse anyone standing under the combined Ulster Unionist and Conservative banner (UCUNF).
Negotiations are said to be at a sensitive stage but an agreement on this key point has so far proved elusive.
Those seats are currently held by the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell and Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew respectively.
The hardline Traditional Unionist Voice said the DUP’s claim that it was standing aside in North Down for unionist unity was “utter nonsense”.
“The DUP’s stated reason for not fielding a candidate in North Down is cynical in the extreme.
“There is no possibility of North Down being won by a nationalist,” the TUV’s Kaye Kilpatrick said. She claimed the move was about helping Hermon to retain the seat.
UUP MAN QUITS
On Wednesday, one of the Ulster Unionist Party’s most senior figures quit over the new pact with the Tories.
Assembly member Alan McFarland, who formerly ran for the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party, resigned because he said the alliance was detrimental to unionist interests.
In another blow to the UUP it has also emerged that Mayor of Antrim Adrian Watson has been vetoed as the party’s candidate for the general election in South Antrim. Watson had called his party’s link-up with the Conservative Party “a dictatorship”.
Sinn Fein was also hit with a pre-election blow: its sole councillor in Banbridge, Dessie Ward, announced his shock resignation from the party late on Monday afternoon.
Mr Ward said he would continue to represent the people of the district as an Independent councillor. He said his decision was taken for “a variety of reasons”, but he had been “unhappy” within Sinn Fein for some time and he believed, as a councillor, he had never been given proper support from the party’s regional headquarters in Lurgan.