Causeway conundrum

There are, so far, more questions than answers surrounding the still-unfolding story of the Causeway Visitors Centre and it’s not clear what worth, if any, there is in Coleraine Borough Council unanimously voting to “keep the proposed visitor’s centre at the Giant’s Causeway in public hands” – a motion seconded by DUP mayor Maurice Bradley. Then there’s the entire back-story, from the fire in 2000 which destroyed the previous centre, to the Moyle UUP councillor William Graham’s last-minute motion to stop the sale of council land in 2002, to the management plan announced in 2005 – in response to a UNESCO report [pdf file]. And what happened to the “potential sources of funding available to rebuild the centre to the council” outlined in 2002 by then-DETI minister Sir Reg Empey? And what role has the National Trust, and Moyle Council, played? The Causeway isn’t going anywhere.. but that doesn’t explain why it’s taken so long to make such little progress on this project. Adds The Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast WHS management plan is available here – in summary and in full [both pdf files] And there was an action plan [pdf again]..

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  • interested

    Surely the Coleraine decision shows that parochialism can manage to defeat even party politics.

    As for the rest of it – we shouldn’t be questioning why a DUP Minister actually took a decision, I mean the issue had only been floating around for 7 years – but why the previous UUP Minister didn’t…

    Or did he prefer just grandstanding for the headlines whilst not actually doing his job?

  • Michael Shilliday

    Or maybe a few months after he made the announcement the Executive collapsed?

  • Bertie

    I’m more interested in how a DUP Minister can gift a tender to private developer who also happens to be a DUP member.

  • joeCanuck

    Are you suggesting Bertie, that if you are a member of a political party in N.I., that you should automatically be ineligible to bid on government contracts for a Department whose Head is also a member of your party?
    That would seem absurd to me.

  • nmc

    I think it’s fair that if contracts are to be awarded to a fellow member of a party, by fellow members of that party, then transparency seems to be the order of the day. Not that I’m saying that there is no transparency (this was suggested by Declan O’Loan on Nolan) I don’t know enough.

    But the onus will be on Dodds and Foster to provide whatever information they have acquired that makes them think that Sweeny’s the man for the job. This is assuming that the decision was not a case of giving Sweeney the contract on the strength of his party affiliation.

  • joeCanuck

    Transparency should be the case in all contracts.

  • Bertie

    No Joe, I’m not. I simply want to know the justification of this decision and why the initial plans have been overturned in favour of a DUP member and property developer with close links to the Paisley family. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

  • URQUHART

    Where did the photo of the developer with the paisleys come out of?

  • bo shank

    mmmm paisley jnr is looking like he’s in the doo-doo. David Gordon reports that the Junior Minister sits on management board of one of sweeney’s companies, this hasn’t been registered on the assembly members register of interests, so just to recap: Junior stands up in the house defending his ministerial coleagues and the developer while ommiting to tell his fellow members and the public he has these close ties with the developer, shurely shome mishtake or at the very least a conflict of interest?

    btw any of you North Antrimers out there know if victoria taylor (juniors new special adviser) and daughter of a prosperous builder has any close links with Mr Sweeney?…100 days in and the dirty dupers are already sleazily trying to run the government like they do some local councils…

  • interested

    Its absolutely ludicrous to suggest that a contract/tender or planning permission cannot be granted to someone who happens to be in the same political party – its about whether the proper procedures were followed, irrespective of who the applicant is.

    To suggest that the person making the application should be taken into account would mean that every applicant for planning permission or every tender submitted would have to provide details of their religious & political affiliation.

    Mind you – there’s a high degree of irony in Declan O’Loane mentioning issues of connections between different people. I wonder does he ever have a quiet word to his missus about Policing issues? Surely having the Police Ombudsman cooking the dinner could possibly create a conflict of interest…… but not if she, as we assume she does, sticks to the proper procedures and decides issues on merit.

    The planning system is open – people are quite at liberty to view any planning application at any stage of the process. They’re quite able to request any information under freedom of information. If the application doesn’t stand up on planning grounds then surely it will be abundantly clear to see for anyone who actually wants to have a look at this for something other than a party political points scoring exercise.

    We then move on to the issue of why should the public sector take the lead in this? Particularly, why should the Giants Causeway visitor centre remain as a public revenue source for Moyle Council – which was an argument put forward by Sinn Fein. Is it really the job of a tourist attraction to provide money to subsidise bin emptying in a Council which wont exist in a few years time?

    The public sector doesn’t have a great record in tourism here – and particularly Councils. The Knight Ride, Navan Fort and the Ulster History Park all stand testament to the stunning ability of Councillors to run something into the ground. Granted they probably stand a half decent chance of making money with the Giants Causeway given that 500,000 people are prepared to visit a portacabin run by the Council.

    Look at the top ten tourist attractions in Northern Ireland as listed by the Tourist Board:
    1)Giants Causeway
    2)Bushmills Distillery
    3)Tyrone Crystal
    4)Irish Linen
    5)Belleek Pottery
    6)The Crown Bar
    7)Londonderry City
    8)Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
    9)The Odyssey Complex
    10)Northern Ireland’s rural countryside.

    No doubt the local council in each area claims that they’re the reason for success – I’d imagine that there’s a councillor out there who believes they help run the countryside! But its private enterprise which seems to drive them.

    The private sector has done far more for tourism in Northern Ireland than local Government, Central Government and all other public agencies combined.

    It all combines to show the absolute hypocrisy, small-mindedness and stupidity of many so-called politicians. Apparently Northern Ireland needs to develop its economy, apparently we’re too reliant on the public sector in Northern Ireland, apparently entrepreneurship is to be encouraged – but woe betide anyone who dare do anything which some tin-pot Councillor thinks he and his Council would be better at doing – despite all the evidence to the contrary. We allegedly want Ministers who will take decisions and do more than simply be guided by the Civil Service, but as soon as a decision is taken which clearly moves outside the ‘safe’ Civil Service mentality of letting Government run every aspect of our lives then its a major scandal.

    Just how small-minded is it to believe that the only economic benefits to be derived from the Giants Causeway come from people buying a souvenir pencil from the visitors centre and parking their cars there. Apparently Moyle Council don’t have the opportunity of encouraging people to actually stay in the area – helping businesses contribute to the rates or any other possibilities other than getting a few quid from carparking.

    Coleraine Councillors simply see the carparking revenue transferring to their ‘new’ Council once we get the reorganisation of local government finished – so that they can get the bin emptying subsidised in the future…… And that’s the kind of vision we apparently want involved with our number one tourist attraction.

    Yet people still criticise private enterprise?

  • stamper

    bo shank says: “mmmm paisley jnr is looking like he’s in the doo-doo. David Gordon reports that the Junior Minister sits on management board of one of sweeney’s companies”

    The Irish News carries a short report of the interaction between IPJ and a BBC Reporter (McKee?) yesterday…

    IPJ: ‘He happens to be a constituent, he lives in North Antrim.’

    Presenter: ‘He’s one of your constituents is he?’

    IPJ: ‘He’s a constituent of all 6 MLAs, he lives in North Antrim that’s correct.’

    Presenter: ‘And you support him?’

    IPJ: ‘I know of him, yes’.

  • Nevin

    Stamper, that quote looks like a transcript from yesterday morning’s Nolan Show – about twenty minutes in.

  • interested

    bo shank
    “David Gordon reports that the Junior Minister sits on management board of one of sweeney’s companies”

    It makes a little more sense if you actually quote the article:

    “Mr Paisley is currently listed as a member of the businessman’s management company for the cottage development site.”

    He’s a member of a glorified residents group. Its the management company for a housing development – not a property company delving into multi-million pound deals. Paisley Junior sits around the table and ensures that communal areas get the grass cut and that the bins get emptied.

    Oooohhh… what scandal!

  • Nevin

    Pete, there’s more from the Council saga here:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/1693549.stm

    Councillors were divided over whether to sell to the National Trust or to Seaport Investments or to retain ownership. IIRC the votes to sell over several meetings went YES, NO, YES, NO, YES, NO, NO.

  • bo shank

    interested, where else in the world would a world heritage site, i’ll underline that, a world heritage site be handed over to a private developer? Southern Italy perhaps? The council, the national trust to have no involvement? it’s crazy.

  • bo shank

    interested..

    ps. i am reliably informed that Junior went with Mcsweeney to make representations years ago on the site with then DETI Minister Reg Empey…

  • Buile Suibhne

    A few years ago he also met with the NITB with Paisley Minor on tow. But then that is just helping a constituent!

  • interested

    bo shank / Buile
    All of those points may well be true – but Paisley Jnr didn’t take the decision – were he the DOE Minister then there might be a point there, but he isn’t.

  • Bertie

    Paisley is a Minister. It’s obvious from their statements that DUP Ministers Foster and Dodds colluded on this issue, who’s to say they didn’t include Paisley in their plot or even if Paisley used his position to influence them?

  • bo shank

    nail on the head bertie

  • interested

    bertie/bo shank
    Paisley is a Junior Minister – he doesn’t have a seat at the Executive table, nor does he get a vote in any Executive decision making process.

    Clearly Foster and Dodds colluded on the issue – we expect Ministers to talk to each other. Were statements co-ordinated? Of course they bloody well were – I would hope that they would be. If Arlene Foster had taken the decision without speaking to Nigel Dodds then she would have been out of order!

    The actual issue is whether Foster & Dodds let who the application was from influence their decision – there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that they did anything other than completely by the book.

    These are all innuendo and rubbish without anything to back them up.

  • Nevin

    Interested, presumably ‘Sir Humphrey’ of the DOE briefed the minister on all aspects of development in the vicinity of a World Heritage Site, including the UNESCO and PACNI documents.

    Pete, perhaps you should add the PACNI documents to your extensive list:

    http://www.pacni.gov.uk/searchAppeals/caseDetails.asp?id=2001/A294

  • Belfast Gonzo

    interested

    Was there any ‘collusion’ or consultation with any of the other ministers?

  • Nevin

    BG, as I watched the BBC folks film the model of the ‘bunker’ outside the Nook and later listened to one of them read a statement from the developer they seemed more like employees of a PR agency than an independent public service broadcaster.

  • Billy

    Interested

    “He’s a member of a glorified residents group. Its the management company for a housing development – not a property company delving into multi-million pound deals. Paisley Junior sits around the table and ensures that communal areas get the grass cut and that the bins get emptied.”

    The point that you seem to miss (or deliberately avoid) is that Ian Og DID NOT DECLARE THIS on the register of member’s interests. Even if it is not a paid position, members are required to register any interest that may involve a conflict of interest. He didn’t, he also failed to clarify this situation when the issue first arose – it had to be uncovered.

    We are talking about a contract worth MILLIONS of pounds of taxpayers money being awarded to this firm.

    I’d say that the award of any such contracts must be totally transparent and seen to be free of any conflict of interest.

    This is obviously not the case here and the only people to blame for that are the participants themselves.

  • Nevin

    Billy, there’s also the matter of the Seven Principles of Public Life that affect all ministers. Here’s one of them:

    Objectivity

    In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.”

    Presumably this would involve an in-depth evaluation of a company and its senior executives, not just its glossy brochures.

  • Peter Brown

    Billy & Nevin

    As I explained on the other thread despite not being a member of IPJ, DUP or Sweeney fan clubs IPJ is a member and shareholder in the Management Company that runs the developement in which he owns a house along with every other householder – there is no remuneration and no conflict of interest as anyone who owns an apartment and is in the same situation will tell you. This is not an aspect of the this debate you shoud be concentrating on….

  • Nevin

    Peter, what is the name of this company that you’re referring to? Who are its directors? What are its liquid assets? BTW, I was dealing with the companies that I’d expect a minister to carefully scrutinise.

    Pete B, what about the Portbraddan fault? Perhaps another item for your list.

    http://nalil.blogspot.com/2007/09/giants-causeway-visitors-centre.html

    Would that be an appropriate location for ‘Bouncer’s Bunker’? It’s curious what turns up when you talk to local people. Apparently Bouncer was the nick-name of the developer when he was a fledgling wielder of a weapon of miss distraction, a hockey stick.

  • Peter Brown

    At 9 Bo Shanks is referring to the Management Company for the development in which IPJ apparently bought the house if the link works its details can be found at

    https://www.secure.detini.gov.uk/crni/CompanyDetails.aspx?CompanyID=a8ceab34-c5df-404b-9e85-7474cc054156

    but it is not a trading company only an incorporated residents assoociation to manage the common areas of the development and its assets will be minimal – it may own the car park of the developemtn if anything. There may be fore behind all this smoke but you’re looking in the wrong place of you look here….

  • Peter Brown

    Link doesn’t get you to where I was but type in Ballallaght in name and you will get there eventually….

  • Nevin

    Peter, how can it be a resident’s association if the ‘company’ address is the address, not of the residents but of Seymour and Carol Sweeney?

  • Peter Brown

    It was him set it up when the properties were being built and there is nowhere to change it to – pick any apartment development anywhere do a company search and there will be a Management Company but the registered office might have moved from the developer to the Managing Agent – presumably SS is still doing this himself? Don’t waste time in this blind alley there’s nothing to see here believe me…….

  • Nevin

    Thanks, Peter. The history of the Ballyallaght development itself might be worth looking at.

  • Margaret

    Just a few questions

    What on earth has it got to do with Coleraine Borough Council? The Giant’s Causeway is in Moyle District.

    Has anyone considered that Mr Sweeney is a major employer in the area, employing ‘local’ people?

    Could public money not be better spent on roads, water systems etc?

    If it wasn’t for MDC messing the private developer around when the initial plans were submitted we would have a visitors centre by now – and dear knows we badly need one!

    Let Mr Sweeney build the centre – anything he has built and developed has gone from strength to stength. Its bad feeling because people in NI can’t see other people working hard, doing well and making a few quid at the same time!