It’s not a smoking gun. But the Belfast Telegraph’s David Gordon reveals that in June 2005 the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr – now a junior minister in the NI Executive – together with fellow DUP MLA Mervyn Storey, wrote a lengthy joint letter to then-NI Secretary Peter Hain arguing that tourism at the Giant’s Causeway was “not being marketed or exploited to its full potential” and that “We believe that tourism can only succeed where the experts are involved and that most certainly includes the private sector. Without their expertise tourism will not grow significantly.” As far as I’m aware, at that time, June 2005, as now, there was only one private developer in the frame. Which, while still no smoking gun, does call into question the value of Environment Minister Arlene Foster’s denials that anyone had lobbied her on Seymour Sweeney’s behalf.And it’s worth remembering that in April this year there was an expectation that Sweeney’s planning application would be declined.
The Belfast Telegraph report also says that, in addition to co-signing a press statement from the DUP Leader Ian Paisley in February 2005 dismissing the Government-led plans for a centre as “fool’s gold”
The letter to Mr Hain further claimed that alternative Government plans for a new Causeway building were “a time marking exercise”.
And they said the blueprint being followed in this process was “inadequate and constrictive” and would result in a centre that would be “too small to meet tourist needs”.
That would be the blueprint designed in accordance with the UNESCO’s 2003 report noted here – which was restated earlier this week by the report’s author.
First, as I understand it, that developer has put forward a proposal on his own land, so he is as entitled as anybody to submit a planning application. Secondly, as far as the use of public money is concerned, I have always made it clear that the Government, just as was the case with the Titanic Quarter signature project, should be involved only to the extent that there has been market failure. Therefore, I say openly and clearly that I would need a lot of convincing that any public money should be invested where no market failure has occurred.