More questions outstanding for the Republic rather than Stormont

Eric Waugh is incredulous at the storm which quickly brewed up last week over the Causeway Visitors Centre. In fact, he argues, the developer concerned is a very wealthy man, and a member of the DUP, though not its benefactor. Waugh cautions the party’s nationalist critics against making unsupported allegations, and notes the nature of the questions still outstanding for the taoiseach:

Perhaps Sinn Fein and the SDLP succumb too easily to the temptation to transfer the strong-smelling political culture of the Republic across the border. At the moment when the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, is taking the stand in Dublin to account for the circumstances in which he received a suitcase containing £30,000 in banknotes – and allegedly two other similar payments – from businessmen in the 1990s, they should be cautious.

Bertiegate would have done for the leader of any other government in western Europe long ago. Remember the former Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, and the loan for his Notting Hill mortgage? He resigned.

Seymour Sweeney is claiming that his proposals have been detailed to Mechtild Rossler, European chief of heritage sites at the organisation, and she was “impressed” with his idea.

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  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    talk about whataboutery from Mr Waugh. There are questions to answer by the DUP ministers, not necessarily the developer. The difference between what’s happening in the south and up north – at least Bertie is being made to answer the questions whereas up here, ms Foster threatens legal action against any one who dares question her motivations. The fact that she and another DUP minister have ditched a project on which more than £1m of public money had already been spent (far in excess, by the way, of the monies allegedly given to Bertie Ahern) is the relevant factor here.

  • Dawkins

    “Perhaps Sinn Fein and the SDLP succumb too easily to the temptation to transfer the strong-smelling political culture of the Republic across the border.”

    Perhaps Eric succumbs too easily to the temptation to transfer his strong-smelling sectarian culture to every situation. When last I looked, the SDLP were an NI party, not an RoI one.

  • Tiny

    The way Foster, Dodds and Paisley Jun dealt with the issue invites suspicion

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    This article is outrageous. To suggest as Waugh does that there was ‘no corruption’ in Northern Ireland during the old Stormont regime is to ignore its endemic ‘anti Catholic’ culture which was the worst type of corruption. Perhaps money didn’t change hands but those who were privileged to be in power abused that privilege and did so either to maintain their position of privilege or gain further privileges, Did government ministers, who to a man were members of the Orange Order or other loyal institutions do favours for other members of the Brotherhood?
    The Stormont regime 1921-72 was a disgrace to democracy and its proroguing by the British Government after its final excesses was far too little too late.

  • Buile Suibhne

    Difficult to play the ball and not the man on this one. The last of the old apologists?

  • Mick Fealty

    Oilibhear,

    “…at least Bertie is being made to answer the questions”

    I take the point you are trying to make here (not least the ‘whataboutery’ in the article above), but as we know in Irish politics, it is a lot easier to ask a question than to ensure a politician actually answers.

    What I think is comparable is that the Tribunal has concrete evidence upon which to premise precise questions. There are none so far in the North Antrim question.

    I suspect that the real questions that need to be asked about the quality of planning laws in Northern Ireland throughout the period of direct rule. And what can be done to strengthen them.

    It’s as critical a question for private developers as it is for the politicians who are directly charged with the guardianship of our countryside and environmental heritage.

  • Mick Fealty

    BS,

    “Difficult to play the ball and not the man on this one.”

    Only if you forgo the obligation to attack his argument rather than who you think he may be. It’s not such a subtle difference as some of our commenters make out.

  • Alan

    “What I think is comparable is that the Tribunal has concrete evidence upon which to premise precise questions. There are none so far in the North Antrim question.”

    The problem is that it is unlikely that any evidence that exists can be gathered in current circumstances and effect the outcome of the planning decision in time.

    We need a significantly more transparent planning system and clearer ways in which consultation is carried on with stakeholders. But in the absence of that, there appears only to be recourse to the assembly to prevent what seems to be a betrayal of local interests at the Causeway. So let’s see the parties in the assembly drag down this “almost decision”.

    Equally, questions have to be asked about the process by which decisions on the DETI scheme were mishandled or delayed so that a tourism decision ended up being made by proxy by the planning service. All that despite the fact the DETI was working with the NT and Moyle in good faith !

    Sweeney’s comments on Unesco support is little more than fluff. They’re clearly hoping the matter will blow away to let them get on with it. But it ain’t going to blow away.

  • kensei

    Mick, you seem to miss the point that regardless of actual concrete evidence, a DUP Minister ruling on a controversial proposal by a DUP member (who is apparently close to the leadership) is a clear conflict of interest. Even if there is nothing untoward, it gives the impression there might be and corrodes public trust.

    There is a reasonable line of argument that says that the developer shouldn’t be treated any differently from anyone else. But I think that dealing with the whiff of impropriety is more important. The only way out I see is for transparency on the proposals on the table, transparency on the choice, the entire Executive to stand behind that decision and a possible debate in the Assembly.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m all for transparency Ken. The more the better. And I certainly hope that that’s where this story is headed. Nothing beats corrosion of public confidence like appropriate disclosure.

    But as I have suggested in other threads, snapping too quickly to a solution before the extent of the whole problem is known, may be tempting but also counter-productive.

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to express the opinion, given the preponderance of evidence establishing a link between Seymour Sweeney and the DUP, that the DUP ministers decision on this is open to question. Their motivation is also open to question, given that more than £1m has already been expended on the project.

    And so is Mr Waugh’s spurious attempt to distract us from the question at hand by drawing some sort of comparsion with the Tribunals in the south. They are ongoing investigations – there is no investigation into this matter in the north as yet that I can see – but there is plenty of circumstantiial evidence that needs to be probed at a deeper level – the relationship between Ian Paisley Junior, a senior colleague of Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds, and Seymour Sweeney in particular.

  • kensei

    “But as I have suggested in other threads, snapping too quickly to a solution before the extent of the whole problem is known, may be tempting but also counter-productive.”

    A link has been clearly established and there is no circumstance I can see where more transparency will be anything other than beneficial.

    being proactive, rather than hanging about to see how bad is and how much they can get away with, would be a wholly positive sign.

  • Buile Suibhne

    As for the comments that Sweeney attributes to UNESCO they seem to be flatly contradicted in the Executive Summary of their site visit in February 2003:
    The authorities are urged to consider a solution for any visitor centre development, which will be approved within the management plans for the World Heritage site and the AONB, only after defining the buffer zone of the World Heritage site.At the location of the existing visitor centre, a new small visitor centre should be rebuilt in its “footprints” without any extension in size and height to provide the basic and necessary visitor information and interpretation at the entrance to the World Heritage site. the mission came to this conclusion in particular by taking into account the dynamic geological features and on-going erosion processes characteristic of the site, which needs specific visitor information including safety considerations. The mission team also clearly states that no additional development in trhe vicinity of the main entrance (outside the World Heritage site) should take place.

  • codyisadog .

    Mr Waugh clearly hasn’t mellowed with age in regards to his biased / bigoted opinions. I for one can vividly remember his hysterical reports on BBC during the UWC strike 1974 when, intentional or not the minority community considered him as being a de facto propagandist for the strike leaders [ The sewage will be coming up through the sewers within hours etc ] statements which helped panic Brian Faulkner ,and others into resignation .
    I am sure that the unionist electorate of today would relish the Assembly set up of 1974 in comparison to the glorified county council that they are elected to at this time . A quick run down of 1974 assembly , control of finance, Ministers for Europe , Health & Social Services ,Education, Agriculture,Housing ,etc and they proved to be a very competent team who worked very well together much to their own surprise .
    I have heard said by many insiders that if it had been up,and running for a year the electorate would have seen the benefits accrued , and it would have survived . How many lives were needlessly sacrificed we will never know , but there are many others beside the paramilitary gunmen who have innocent blood on their hands .

  • nmc

    The first thing that occurs to me is the comparison between two seperate governments. If that logic applied surely Bertie could say something like “ach well sure I got a few grand, but have you seen what Mugabe’s up to? He’s got some real questions to answer…” WTF has the actions of a different government in another jurisdiction got to do with justifying what goes on here?

    A couple of lines towards the end of his piece also interest me:

    The notable thing about the old Stormont is that, in this sort of thing, it was a remarkably correct and scrupulous place. {til they let the fenians in?}

    The civil service may no longer be as impeccable as once it seemed to be. {Pre-fenian?}

    Portballintrae is now a retail desert. In winter the blind eyes of its shuttered new apartment blocks, marshalled in serried ranks, line upon line, look bleakly over the bay… {This is the argument FOR Sweeney’s investment? It totally destroyed Portballintrae so, um, let him have a crack at the North Coast?}

    And a couple of other wee things:

    No Causeway for concern. {lol lol lol Pure genius, he could write for the Sunday Sport}

    As for the suggestion that there is a conflict of interest {There IS a conflict of interest. No suggestion required}

    I must say the head of steam worked up over whether the Government or an entrepreneur should pay for this tourist cafe and mini-museum leaves me quite mystified. {Someone want to explain it to him? Ok, am I right in saying that the visitor centre will take revenue out of the public’s hands and put it in the hands of a private investor? That’s why the head of steam has built up.}

  • Nevin

    “the extent of the whole problem” .. Mick

    Kensei, maybe we’be we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg …..

  • kensei

    “Kensei, maybe we’be we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg …..”

    Could well be true. It could also well be true that it’s still the best option regardless. Total transparency on the decision making process and proper accountability via the Assembly remains the only way forward.

  • Nevin

    Kensei, an earlier project for this location failed to get past the Planning Appeals Commission in 2002, UNESCO-IUCN intervened in 2003, the DUP ministers have stirred up a hornets’ nest and the local councils are pressing for continued public ownership. It’s a shambles.

    Perhaps the Minister will be able to bring some clarity on Thursday – after she extricates herself from the conundrum of her meeting to discuss problems with the developer’s other project in Coleraine and her claim to not knowing anything about said developer.

  • Dawkins

    nmc,

    “No Causeway for concern. {lol lol lol Pure genius, he could write for the Sunday Sport}”

    Let’s give Eric the benefit of the doubt here. This sort of abysmal headline is usually the brainchild of the subeditor not the contributor.

  • Billy

    Mick

    “to attack his argument rather than who you think he may be”

    I don’t think that it is a matter of thinking who Waugh may be. Having seen him on TV regularly when I was growing up in NI and read his columns, I don’t think that there is any doubt about who he supports and who he doesn’t. One of “the old apologists” as an earlier poster has stated.

    However, his argument (as with most of them) is easily countered.

    He provides absolutely no evidence whatsoever to exonerate those implicated in this affair. He expresses an opinion – so what? he’s no better informed than you or I.

    He compares this affair to the current hearings in the RoI. Again so what? I don’t know what the outcome down South will be but, even if there is evidence of corruption, 2 wrongs don’t make a right. Or is Waugh’s “point” that your politicians are more corrupt than ours?

    As to his warning about making unsubstantiated allegations? – What a joke. More than any other NI party, the DUP has hidden under the cover of Parliamentary Privilege and refused to withdraw allegations even when they have been proved wrong.

    We have Paisley and his accusations about the Reavey family – totally refuted by the RUC.

    Recently we had Robinson accusing a businessman of connections with IRA “dirty money”. This was totally refuted by the PSNI + SFO. Has Robinson withdrawn these comments? no. Has he got the guts to repeat them outside Parliament where he could be sued? no. If he had any evidence to support these allegations, why not repeat them?

    Arlene Foster threatens to sue anyone who accuses her of wrongdoing. I don’t believe that she was accused directly but the SF representative spoke under Assembly Privilege. I would have more time for Foster’s complaint if her party hadn’t such an appalling record of abusing parliamentary privilege. If they can’t take it, they shouldn’t dish it out.

    I don’t recall any articles from Mr Waugh attacking the DUP for these abuses of parliamentary privilege.

    This article is, in my opinion, a very weak piece of journalism from a poor journalist whose political opinions are all too obvious.

    The facts are simple – the way certain DUP politicians have acted invites suspicion. This matter certainly requires further investigation.
    Guilty or innocent, those involved have only themselves to blame for the way they have acted.

    The hearings in the RoI are irrelevant. They don’t involve SF or the SDLP and they are the ones calling for an investigation. It is simply a blatant and obvious attempt to muddy the waters.

    The comment about making “unfounded allegations” is hypocritical and pathetic. There is more evidence to support the calls for an investigation in this case than there were in the Robinson case. It appears that Mr Waugh’s views on unfounded allegations are variable and dependent upon who is making the allegations.

    Hardly consistent is it?

  • Rory

    Now as we begin to reap the rewards of the Peace Process (capitals for some reason mandatory here) we might consider that perhaps Waugh is right and we should not be overly concerned about these shenanigans. Ambrose Bierce after all in The Devil’s Dictionary defined “peace” as:

    A period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

    All seems to be normal so.

  • Aquifer

    The question is largely about the quality of decisionmaking in relation to a priceless natural treasure, and the quality of the visitor’s centre that will result. Dismissing any suggestion of corruption is beside the point. Does Mr Sweeney’s claim that the design is similar to the competition winner bear scrutiny at all? Is it a world class design for a world class attraction? Will it add to visitor numbers or just efficiently empty their pockets?

    The border may or not be over as a story, but it need have nothing to do with this one.

  • Nevin

    Aquifer, Jim Allister, MEP and former member of the DUP, has also drawn attention to the quality of decision making; he’s also represented folks who’ve been through the courts with the developer.

    “On the 100th day of devolution I warned that an all-inclusive Executive and the resulting absence of an Opposition, would lead to arrogance, bad decisions and poor government.

    The Giant’s Causeway is an unparalleled national treasure and asset for Northern Ireland. It is imperative that it is developed, in all its facets and opportunities, exclusively in the public interest. Public benefit, not private gain, should be the priority.”

    The location of the visitor’s centre may prove to be more significant than its quality, in this debacle. As I’ve noted previously, UNESCO and the Planning Appeals Commission have been extremely negative about the location.

    Paisley jnr’s coyness about his long standing relationship with the developer combined with the abrupt change of direction by the DUP ‘management’ when the party went into government with SF have loosened tongues that previous were no more than bitten. There had been a deep sense of loyalty to the party and, especially, to its leader but all that has changed.

    There has been a steady flow of stories about both the DUP – in particular Paisley jnr – and the developer, not just to me but to journalists carrying out an in-depth investigation into matters such as the sale of the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway.

    On a general point, the current state of the planning process in Northern Ireland needs an investigation into the relationships between politicians, planners and developers. All planning applications should be subject to the same guidelines; all applicants should be treated fairly and equally.