No stone being left unturned in Causeway debate…

THE debate over the DUP’s plan to hand the Giant’s Causeway tourist centre to one of its members has continued unabated since yesterday, with some new developments. Aside from membership of the DUP, there are several links between the developer, Seymour Sweeney, and the party. The Tele reports how “Mr Sweeney sold a north Antrim property some years ago to DUP politician Ian Paisley Jnr”, now a junior Stormont minister, who “is currently listed as a member of the businessman’s management company for the cottage development site” at Bushmills. On a BBC interview, Paisley Jr would only say “I know of him, yes” and described him as a mere “constituent” despite this relationship, which even Sweeney was more open about in his statement (below the fold). The Assembly debated the issue yesterday, and it’s already been pointed out that Sweeney signed the election nomination papers for DUP candidate, loyalist protester and convicted fraudster David McAllister. The National Trust (which owns the causeway stones) revealed that plans for a publicly-funded tourist centre were advanced, yet the DUP ministers appear to have been avoiding the Trust since the Assembly was re-established – now they know why. Moyle Council is to debate the issue this week, but last night neighbouring Coleraine voted unanimously to keep the proposed visitor’s centre at the Giant’s Causeway in public hands. The first signs of a DUP split emerged, with DUP Mayor Maurice Bradley seconding the SDLP motion and eight DUP members supporting it.Sweeney’s statement from yesterday:

Mr Seymour Sweeney, managing director, Seaport (NI) Ltd, can confirm that he is a member of the DUP and like all members pays his annual subscription at the usual rates.

Neither he nor any of his companies have now, or ever, been a donor to the party. Mr Sweeney has no other links to the DUP either personally or through family connections.

He can confirm that he did sign council nomination papers for Cllr David McAllister but did so in the same way that he would do if asked to write a testimonial for anyone applying for a job which he considered them qualified to do well.

He can confirm that many years ago at one of Seaport’s developments, namely Ballyallaght Farmyard Cottages outside Bushmills, a property was purchased by Ian Paisley jnr in the normal way through sales agents and solicitors.

Ian Paisley jnr paid the full market sales price which was more expensive than the house neighbouring his property by virtue of the fact that the house he bought was slightly larger.

As a North Antrim-based development company whose local MP comes from the DUP, Mr Sweeney regards it as normal practice to consult and discuss matters with not only this party but all political parties with an interest in the area, which he has done throughout the years, particularly since Mr Sweeney’s activities not only include property development but also the tourism hospitality industry where he owns Sweeney’s Wine Bar and Glenville Self- Catering Cottages in Portballintrae, the Nook at the Giant’s Causeway, is the former owner of the Bayview hotel in Portballintrae, and in 2005 saved from liquidation the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway.

For the avoidance of any doubt, Mr Sweeney has neither met nor spoken to ministers Foster or Dodds on this or any other issue. He is appalled as a property developer at this attempt to besmirch his company and activities when all he has ever sought to do, evidenced by his many and several developments in north Antrim, is provide top-class tourist facilities on the one hand and construct residential dwellings of the highest standard on the other.

  • James Stock

    Since there were only three DUP members including Bradley there when the vote was taken, eight in support is an exaggeration.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Before anyone says it, I just noticed Pete posted on this subject earlier, but the points are different enough to allow both to stand.

    Besides, it took 2 hours with a screaming baby in one arm, so I’m damned if it’s coming down!

  • Belfast Gonzo

    According to the Irish News: “However, there was dissension in the DUP last night after its eight councillors in Coleraine Borough Council voted in favour of a motion by the SDLP’s John Dallat to support a publicly funded visitors centre.”

  • interested

    Gonzo,
    I assume you know what the management board of a housing development actually is…..

    He sits around the table getting the bins emptied and communal grass areas cut. Its a glorified residents group – yet you attempt to portray it as some scene out of Dallas!

  • Sean

    teach the baby to do the typing Gonzo lol

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Makes him more than the casual acquaintance Paisley made him out to be, so if he’s being disingenuous on that…

  • Nevin

    “He is appalled as a property developer at this attempt to besmirch his company and activities when all he has ever sought to do, evidenced by his many and several developments in north Antrim, is provide top-class tourist facilities on the one hand and construct residential dwellings of the highest standard on the other.”

    I think any investigation would show that there are a number of companies in what appears to be the same stable. I’ve already linked to Seaport Investments Ltd and Ballyallaght Management Limited.

    The Robinson Interiors v Seaport Investments case mentioned earlier indicates that some of the ‘smirching’ may have been self-inflicted.

    The buildings may well be built to a very high standard. That could tell us more about the builders than anyone else. The attempt to ‘concrete over’ part of the Salmon Fishery site in Portballintrae was firmly rejected by PACNI, the same body that rejected earlier proposals for the green field site opposite the Nook; it also, presumably, cost the local residents’ association a lot of money.

    Perhaps all developers should maintain their properties in the Bushmills Conservation area as recommended in the guidelines. The present strategy of boarding up empty ones is an eyesore; it will do little to encourage visitors to stop in the town.

    I wonder what a parliamentary investigation into the relationships between planners, politicians and developers might reveal. Perhaps it’s time to find out whether the locals are any better behaved than those in other jurisdictions.

  • willis

    He owns a wine bar!

    What has Ivan Foster to say on the matter?

  • James Stock

    You should check your sources Gonzo and so should the Irish News. That figure is coming from a John Dallat statement which is plain wrong.

  • Peter Brown

    Gonzo

    As with all recently constructed developments with common arera and therefore Management Companies all the homeowners will be members and probably shareholders in the Management Company – it will in fact be a requirement under the deeds and therefore adds nothing to the assertion that he owns a house in the development which apparently he paid full price for. There is more mileage in the DUP membership allegation but in the absence of serious competition to the Sweeney bid from the public or private sector there may be a lot of smoke but very little fire here?

  • Bertie

    It is quite funny to watch the DUP sycophants try to explain away the sleazy dealings of their new ministers. What is not so funny is that the rest of us will have to pay for the upkeep of the site while Messieurs Paisley, Dodds and Sweeney are laughing all the way to the bank.

  • Alan

    “There is more mileage in the DUP membership allegation but in the absence of serious competition to the Sweeney bid from the public or private sector there may be a lot of smoke but very little fire here? ”

    Except that there appears to have been a history of delay on the part of the DTI which seems to have resulted in the competition to the Sweeney bid being delayed. Indeed, it seems to have only been finally turned down yesterday. I would expect that Foster will have to consider the viability of the Moyle/NT proposal in any case.

    Mind you, if it proves impossible for MLA’s to force a rethink and maintain a public sector provision at this site, then what is the point of the assembly?

  • Grouch

    Good governance should dictate that Alene Foster and Nigel Dodds should have removed themselves from the decision – it is not because they aren’t to be trusted, but good government needs to be transparent and be seen to be impartial. It needs to show quite clearly that the public interests are best served, regardless of family, friends or political interests.

    The DUP are either extremely arrogant in thinking that they could have gotten away with this, or extremely incompetent at not knowing the connection. Either way, the public’s belief in their probity has been seriously tested. I would have presumed that both ministers have personal advisors who are due to look after their party political interests and to ensure that public embarrassments like this don’t happen – isn’t that what the public are paying for as well?

  • Pounder

    Seems to me that the DUP are getting a little too sure of themselves and think they can do whatever they want just because they hold a majority in the Assembly. The other parties need to nip this in the bud now. Ofcourse the UU’s won’t given a certain [i]former[/i] MLA’s recent dealings and IIRC a certain former Sinn Fein councilor Joe O’Donnell was involved in dodgy property schemes. Do politicians not get paid enough?

  • monkey

    Does anyone know, in light of questions being asked by SF, SDLP and APNI in the Assembly and media, why the Ulster Unionist Party has nothing to say?

  • bo shank

    monkey:

    UNREGISTERED INTERESTS AND QUESTIONS OVER MINSITERIAL DECISION MAKING PROCESS IN CAUSEWAY DECISION : INTEGRITY AND PROBITY OF EXECUTIVE IS PUT TO THE TEST SAYS KENNEDY

    UUP Deputy-Leader Danny Kennedy said that the events of recent days regarding the Causeway Coast Visitors centre had the potential to tarnish the integrity and probity of the Assembly Executive.

    Mr Kennedy pointed to the fact a constituency MLA, who also serves as a Junior Minister, has confirmed having clear links to the private developer but has omitted to register the fact that he sits on one of the developer’s companies management board in either a remunerated or unremunerated capacity. The Deputy Leader also said MLAs needed a full, open and public account of how the Ministers responsible reached their decision as these unanswered questions were creating a whiff of sleaze in the fledgling government.

    In a statement Mr Kennedy said,

    “There are currently so many unanswered questions surrounding the decision to steer the Causeway site away from public bodies to a private developer with clear links to the DUP.

    The DUP MLA for North Antrim defended in the Assembly debate the move made by his Ministerial colleagues. It transpires from newspaper reports that the member sits on the management board of one Mr Sweeney’s companies. This position is not registered in the Assembly Members interests which are available to the public on the Assembly website.

    The advice on the code of conduct governing Members’s interests states: “members are required to list…any unremunerated interest which might reasonably be thought by others to influence their actions as Assembly Members.”

    There are questions that need to be answered by the member concerned as to whether his comments on the Causeway site constitute a conflict of interest.

    In addition the DUP Ministers involved have a duty to clear up this debacle by publicly reporting to the Assembly how they reached this decision and what representations were made to them by or on behalf of Mr Sweeney’s development company or associated companies. The longer this whiff of sleaze is allowed to hang in the air, the more the integrity and probity of this fledgling government is being tarnished.”

    Ends

  • Rory

    If I were an investigate journalist from some scurrilious seditious organ, say Private Eye, this is the paragraph in Sweeney’s statement that would most intrigue me:

    Ian Paisley jnr paid the full market sales price which was more expensive than the house neighbouring his property by virtue of the fact that the house he bought was slightly larger.

    Why? Well we expect a larger house to fetch more on the market than a similar neighbouring smaller one. We do not need that explained to us. So where’s the need? Why the emphasis on “,Slightly larger”? Why not simply, “larger”? And what is a “full market sales price”? We have “full market” price of an item, which is the price at which an item is valued in line with current sales prices being fetched for similar properties and we have “sales price” which is simply the price at which an item is actually sold which price may have been influenced by current marlet values but is not dictated by them as it may ignore them entirely and far exceed them or fall markedly short of them.

    Of course in a sense any sales price, however high or low, may be said to be the “full market price” since, although that price may not coincide with market prices generally, it is nevertheless the price fetched in that tiny, singular market of the sale of that house. And many, many factors, including consideration for friendship or other form of relationship, may well exert much more influence than “current market values” in determining the sale price, which I suppose, following the logic of the preceding sentence, could then be called ” the full market value” (in the singular market of that transaction).

    Perhaps it’s just me, but my antennae always twitch a little when I find an item curiously over-explained in any statement. A bit like reading a menu that describes a simple grilled chicken on the menu as “Succulent tender breasts of home reared, corn fed chicken marinated in a melange of fine herbs, choice balsamic vinegar, full-bodied earthy Spanish Rioja red wine, crushed garlic and cardammon seeds coriander and piquant cayenne before….”, at which point you redon your jacket and say, “Excuse me, I’ve forgotten a previous pressing engagement”.

  • Bigger Picture

    Again this is nothing but smoke with no actual fire. You all seem to be harping on about the link between Jnr and this fella Sweeney but show me the connection between Sweeney and the two Ministers involved. Both (dodds in particular) have shown that they are not blow overs in their own departments especially concerning the Maze. So simply by going over this relationship between Jnr and Sweeney actually tells us nothing about the decision reached.

    In the meantime all the jumped up dissenters should concentrate deciding whats best for the site rather than this pathetic attempt to scandalize the story.

  • Zimmerman flew, Tyler knew, Turk 182.

  • McBurney

    “Both (dodds in particular) have shown that they are not blow overs in their own departments especially concerning the Maze.”

    Whilst trying not to go off topic here, I always thought Arlene Foster was pro-Maze Bigger Picture? Or am I simply mis-interpreting your statement?

  • Rory

    Enough of the Dan Brown please, Sammy. Intrique is all very well and we all enjoy a bit of code breaking, Morse or otherwise, but this particular enigma just infuriates. More clues please, chairman.

  • Bigger Picture

    McBurney

    Yeah sorry that is not very clear it relates to Dodds really rather than Foster don’t know why i worded it that way. Sorry for the confusion

  • Briso

    Turk 182 is a film Rory.

  • Nevin

    “show me the connection between Sweeney and the two Ministers involved.”

    Well, there are both Paisleys for a start. Can you think of any more?

    “tells us nothing about the decision reached.”

    I thought no decision had been reached. Can you enlighten us please?

  • noel adams

    for bigger picture
    As for all smoke and no fire this could be a westminster matter. Iff Ian junior has a business relationship with developer it should be registered in westminster as he is one of Ian seniors team in N Antrim the best way to sort this out woulw be for someone in N Antrim to write to the MLA in question if not happy refer to standards commisioner PS on his westminister register ian does not include a trip to USA with policing board as this trip wasset up by westminster probably should be declaaired as a benifit over 300 pounds the trip is listed on the stormont register.

  • Peter Brown

    Noel

    I am not a DUP supporter or of Ian Junior but there is nothing to refer to anyone here as there is no business relationship – every public representative has political relationships with developers and although this one may be closer than most its not declarable unless you can point to something not yet published….

  • PBTdiyer

    Can anyone tell me where Seaport Investments is Registered. I have tried Companies Registry but have drawn a blank. It would be interesting to see the list of Directors.

  • jone
  • Bigger Picture

    Yeah and what i have heard so far is between the Paisley’s and not the ministers, if anyone would read my comment rather than jumping the gun. The Paisley’s had no jurisdiction over the decision show me the link between the ministers IN QUESTION and Sweeney.

    I’ll be waiting…

  • Bigger Picture

    Nevin

    Read post 18, i can’t be bothered with the Paisley/minister thing again.

  • Nevin

    “The Paisley’s had no jurisdiction over the decision”

    Quite so, BP. You forgot to mention that the FM is the party boss as well as FM and so is in a position to dictate to his subordinates.

  • Nevin

    Well, I’ve had a look at item 18 and found this hilarious observation:

    “In the meantime all the jumped up dissenters should concentrate deciding whats best for the site rather than this pathetic attempt to scandalize the story.”

    I suppose I’m a dissenter who wants what’s best for the site. That’s why I did some background research and posted it, with relevant hyperlinks, on Slugger O’Toole. No amount of jumping up and down will distract me.

  • Bigger Picture

    “You forgot to mention that the FM is the party boss as well as FM and so is in a position to dictate to his subordinates.”

    Think of what happened between the FM and the DETI minister over the Maze site??

    You may research well but in terms of applying the facts to fit your story you are still falling short

  • Nevin

    BP, many of the ‘facts’ have probably yet to appear.

    I wonder what happens to all the money that the Government have already set aside for the DETI, NT and MDC project. I’ve heard a reference to £14m. Can anyone elaborate?

    I’m not an investigative journalist nor do I have access to massive financial resources so don’t be surprised if I fall a little short …

  • pbtdiyer

    It is interesting that the saviour of the Bushmills and Giant’s Causeway Railway should, on acquisition of the said railway , immediately close off the attached car park and introduce a charge for parking. This is for parking in a car park provided by ratepayers money. Moyle Council could have charged for parking and added to the Public Purse if they are so short of funds or perhaps they are charging for the facility.

    Is this a foretaste of what will happen with the proposed Visitors Centre?

  • pbtdiyer

    Why do we have two different versions of the Sweeney/Paisley photograph doing the rounds?
    On this item we have 3 individuals but the other version has 4. In the background is DUP councillor David McAllister – whose Election nomination papers were signed by S Sweeney.