Spotlight on the Causeway…

Nevin reminds us that Spotlight is looking at the Causeway controversy tonight on BBC NI at 10.35pm. That’s for those who won’t be watching David Trimble on Newsnight, on why using Northern Ireland as an exemplar for other peace processes is not a good idea. Here’s an earlier attempt by some other dudes.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Nevin

    The Spotlight video should be available for a week from tomorrow – but you might not want to wait 😉

  • Dympna

    Over on todays BBC NI news page there is a thumbnail photograph of Seymour Sweeney ….he is a dead ringer for a 70’s Noddy Holder.

    Cum on feel the noize.

  • Baby Doc is under serious pressure. Hiccup my arse!

  • hercules

    A good well researched BBC Spotlight expose that also avoided a lot of libellous pitfalls.


  • Frank Sinistra

    That was one of the least convincing rebuttals I’ve seen from Paisley Jnr. Seemed like a spoilt child assuming everyone will believe what mummy and daddy do.

    What a liability for the DUP. The First Minister, Tourism and Environment Minister all getting splattered with what is clearly Jnr’s muck – the UNESCO lies should be enough for a sacking but the house ownership issue and vagueness on official lobbying should mean the wee man is going to face more crap yet.

    He’s not very good at lying or crap at presenting the truth. Either way Spotlight just shafted our first politico.

    Up to the DUP to deal with it now.

    Nobody was buying that bollix.

  • Frank Sinistra

    On Slugger first:

    I’ve just heard they should have asked when he moved in and when he ‘bought the house’ and ‘started paying a mortgage on it’.

  • Pete Baker

    Perhaps Frank

    But they should definitely have asked whether Paisley Jnr had discussed his lobbying on behalf of Seymour Sweeney’s proposal with either Foster or Dodds before they became NI Executive Ministers [before May] – or if he knew of anyone else within the party, or without, who had done so at any time.

  • Frank Sinistra

    Or pushed on his lobbying of government officials on the matter which he couldn’t recall was formal or informal since devolution? (how does a Jnr Minister informally lobby a government official?)

  • moochin Photoman

    stinks is right and jnr saying it was a ‘administrative hiccup’ is an insult to our collective intelligence (such as it is)
    Baby Doc is on very very thin ice with all this because he came across as being disingenuous to say the least

  • GavBelfast

    Paisley Jnr clearly doesn’t like it up him.

    Good work, Kevin Magee.

  • In any other place a resignation would have been the order of the day. But when one can blame “administrative cock-ups” and keep a straight face, you are way beyond the concept of political integrity.

  • The Raven

    Seymour really doesn’t like the limelight, you know.

    Perhaps people will go and get a little flavour of what Seymour has been up to in other parts of the North Coast.

    That house he demolished in Dhu Varren in Portrush for example…the kitchen in the neighbouring house that fell through…the year that Mr Sweeney left the resident to wait before reinstating the damaged area…the subsidence his demolition caused…yes…wee things like that…

  • Nevin

    The Spotlight programme is well worth a second look. I should think the First Minister will have some questions to answer when he next comes to the Assembly.

    MLAs will be surprised that McAllister is still a member of the party, considering the fate of some other DUP MLAs and councillors. They will also want to know why he allowed his name to be appended to the letter to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the one that referred to UNESCO.

    The mushrooming development at Ballyallaght poses serious questions for the planning process and its boss, Arlene Foster. It’s not in keeping with the height and footprint of the single-storey one time farmhouse that planners were minded to permit being ‘replaced’.

    The Spotlight programme was well researched. An indepth study of the players named tonight would probably generate a mini-series. If only the BBC had the money!!

  • Concerned Loyalist

    Spotlight tonight was a complete and utter waste of taxpayers’ money…

  • Outsider

    What was disgusting tonight was the fact that a DUP councillor claimed £17000 in benefit fraud yet he was not disciplined by the DUP and he keeps his position.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    There didn’t seem to be anything new in the programme, as it appeared to re-hash everything that appeared in the press and online over the past few weeks. Still no smoking gun, although the inferences that could be drawn from the ownership of Mr Paisley Jr’s house (already known as well) and watching him visibly squirm made it worth watching nonetheless.

  • The Raven

    Belfast Gonzo

    Didn’t you once have a wee blog about Cllr Alexander standing in front of Seymour’s bulldozers before they trashed some gardens up in Portrush…?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    It’s entirely possible, although I can’t remember if it was me or one of the other bloggers here wrote the thing. Feel free to do a search!

  • veritas

    there is more -the programme should have had another hour then we would have seen the lengths that some will go to keep developers and polluters happy-lobbying high level meetings-verbal assurancs (referred to in letters on behalf of developers)given in these meetings-of which there are no minutes,on and on it goes.more investigative journalism is most dfinately in the public interest-also there should be an effective whistle blowing mechanism throughout the whole public service.because NI economy is over reliant on the public sector is not to say that all private developement must be good.Public representatives and officials need to be fully accountable.

  • Bemused

    Decent documentary – nothing new on the factual front but when the evidence against Paisley Junior was set out in a coherent fashion it became patently obvious that the man is utterly, undeniably corrupt. His attitude to forensic and justified questioning is pretty repugnant too i.e. smirk, sneer and insinuate that your questioner is in some way stupid, deluded or insane.

  • I Wonder

    “His attitude to forensic and justified questioning is pretty repugnant too i.e. smirk, sneer and insinuate that your questioner is in some way stupid, deluded or insane.”

    Hmmm, that sounds a familiar tactic – would you care to comment again, David?

  • Skintown Lad

    i thought there was little of substance to the spotlight ‘revelations’ actually.

    the whole story was predicated on the basis that baby doc had taken inducements in the form of a house. but that wasn’t made out at all. he bought it from an estate agent, so he prima facie appears to have bought at arm’s length and further it wouldn’t be that hard to find out whether he paid market price. and that old law lecturer guy they held up as an expert was a joke, or rather the question he answered was the wrong one. legal title can still have been passed to baby doc, whether or not notoriously unreliable conveyancers have yet filled out the correct forms.

    and dousing him in that raking light to make him look more dodgy was disgraceful. i don’t mind a proper investigation, but less of the spin please spotlight

  • darth rumsfeld

    Agree skintown lad

    Much as many posters enjoyed seeing junior look shifty I thought there was little enough in the programme, and I was distinctly underimpressed by the bizarre interview with McAllister, which certainly came across as an ambush.

    Of course it’s an appropriate thing to question the man about his conviction, but that was apparently not what the interview was supposed to be about. It just seemed cheap shot journalism to me.

    Plus I’d be amazed if there was no paperwork proving Paisley was the owner of the house, having experienced the farce that is the Land Registry. Why not wait for the evidence Junior was claiming his solicitor could produce- or would that have holed the conspiracy thesis below the waterline? Surely they could have run another programme this week- say on the fiasco that is the Republic football team? I’d have watched it

  • J Kelly

    Have we not heard all this before, houses, developers, dodgy administration, lobbying for friends, meals we cant remember. Maybe FF will merge with the DUP and whey can all live happy ever after.

  • Skintown Lad

    yes darth. i couldn’t quite make out the point of that part of the McAllister interview either. the programme was meant to be about the causeway and then they just threw in a bit of a benefit fraud story too. not sure what they were hoping to achieve, other than some footage of someone storming away from an interview. devalued the investigation in my view – looked more like slinging mud.

    i agree that it wouldn’t be too hard to find out whether baby doc paid market price for the house and he seemed open to responding to those questions with proof from his solicitor.

    if he did pay market price for the house, what are we left with? they had lunch together and sometimes go to each other’s houses? does that mean politicians aren’t allowed to be friends with their constituents? or if they are allowed, they have to make sure any of those constituents are road sweepers and binmen and do not have an interest in any change in their locality?

  • Nevin

    ‘Smoking gun’ seems to be a favourite of Junior’s; it’s even polluting discourse on Slugger!!

    “There are no skeletons in his closet,” his son insists. “There’s nothing in his life which is a secret. The search for the smoking gun is a fruitless search.” .. Guardian September 16, 2004

    Presumably the Paisleys will now be able to explain why McAllister is still a party member.

    Will the Chuckle Brothers be able to explain why they haven’t raised the matter of a possible breach of the Ministerial Code, a poser not explored in Spotlight but mentioned on SoT?

    “Duty to bring matters to the attention of the
    executive Committee
    2.4 Any matter which:-
    (i) cuts across the responsibilities of two or more Ministers;”

    Dodds has already made a decision and Foster is ‘minded’ to make one in favour of the recently renamed Seaport (NI) Limited – director and fellow DUP member, Seymour Henry Sweeney. Another case for MC defender Robinson?

    There could also be a controversial aspect. Foster met a delegation from Coleraine Borough on July 9, nine days before she and at least one of her senior officials visited the proposed Visitor Centre; the new site is in clear breach of the UNESCO report. The delegation raised inter alia the problems of mushroom development associated with a Seaport/Sweeney project on Mountsandel Road , Coleraine.

  • ulsterfan

    Many people are opposed to the Sweeney plans for development.
    These views have been aired and we are in danger of going round in circles.
    What objections have been lodged?
    If permission is denied what appeal procedure is open to him?
    This looks like a long process the outcome of which is uncertain.

  • Darrell Monteith

    There is nothing new in this piece of nonsense, Ian bought a property from a developer whose development he supported for planning. So What ?

    No matter how many times the media rake over this there is still no wrongdoing, they should stop wasting taxpayers money following a vendetta because Ian spoke out against sin in our society.

  • Skintown Lad

    “There could also be a controversial aspect. Foster met a delegation from Coleraine Borough on July 9, nine days before she and at least one of her senior officials visited the proposed Visitor Centre; the new site is in clear breach of the UNESCO report. The delegation raised inter alia the problems of mushroom development associated with a Seaport/Sweeney project on Mountsandel Road , Coleraine.”

    apologies if i’m a bit thick, nevin, but what is the controversial aspect?

  • Nevin

    Darth, I want to have another look at that video but it’s not yet online.

    McAllister has already spoken on the BBC (Nolan Show) about his relationship with Sweeney. Why did he walk away from this interview – after praising the quality of Seaport projects? Was he concerned that he might then be asked about Robinson Interiors vs Seaport?

    No stone being left unturned in Causeway debate…#7

    McAllister’s presence had been deleted from earlier BBC photos of the ‘owl and the pussycats’ although all three DUP elected representatives have assisted Seaport projects.

    I’ve watched other BBC interviews with Sweeney where we were treated to models of the Seaport proposed Visitor Centre and statements were read out on behalf of the developer. Now IMO that looks too much like the BBC acting as a PR company.

  • Nevin

    “What objections have been lodged?”

    Ulsterfan, I understand that there might be around 100 objections and that the Environment Committee is still trying to get a sight of all the documentation that was made available to Minister Foster. The documents were numbered and apparently #1 and #3 were missing from the public file. Perhaps David Ford can update us on this.

    “If permission is denied what appeal procedure is open to him?”

    It might just be through the courts. This planning application is proceeding under Article 31:

    In practice, most Article 31 applications in the past have been dealt with by Notice of Opinion, indicating that the Department proposes to either grant or refuse planning permission. This is likely to remain the case in future.

    However, the Department may cause a public local inquiry to be held where it is considered that the inquiry process will provide additional information to inform the Department in making a final planning decision.

    A key test for the Department in deciding the process route will be whether a public local inquiry is necessary to provide all the information to enable the planning decision to be taken.

    The volume of public objections received to a planning application will not be a determining factor in the decision as to whether a public local inquiry is required. An important issue for the Department in respect of public comment is the content of all types of representations rather than the volume, and whether they raise issues that cannot be satisfactorily considered through normal consultation arrangements.

    The Minister doesn’t have to proceed through the Planning Appeals Commission – a route that an earlier application foundered on in 2002. She has already said that she is minded to say YES.

  • Nevin

    “apologies if i’m a bit thick, nevin, but what is the controversial aspect?”

    Have a look at this Skinlad:

    I do not know the applicant, have never met him, and know nothing about him.

    “If anyone impugns my integrity in this matter I will be seeking legal advice and will act accordingly.” .. Foster statement, September 11

    As I’ve already claimed, implicitly or explicitly, on Slugger she may not know what the developer has for his breakfast but she was well aware of the controversy surrounding his developments in Coleraine Borough at the meeting on July 9.

    I’m informed that she has put part of the Mountsandel Road, Coleraine, project on hold and that she was briefed about other projects inter alia in Portrush and Portballintrae. Presumably her officials briefed her on or around July 18 about the PACNI 2002 and UNESCO 2003 reports when she visited the North Coast.

  • Skintown Lad

    i’m not sure what you can take from that, nevin. she may legitimately not have linked the man seymour sweeney with his development in coleraine, given that he probably uses different corporate vehicles for different projects. having said that i don’t know the ins and outs of the matter and what should have been obvious etc

    even then, i don’t know what you take from the line “i know nothing about him”. that strikes me as the sort of line people say when they mean “yes i’ve heard of him but i don’t have lunch with him like baby doc does”. again, looks like people are reading a bit too much into it.

  • joeCanuck

    “does that mean politicians aren’t allowed to be friends with their constituents?”

    Of course not Skintown lad.
    But when first asked if he knew Sweeney, he said “I know of him”.
    Is that how you would normally describe a fishing buddy?

  • Nevin

    What do you make of this, Skintown – thanks to Google?

    “C/2006/0612 Sweeney, Mountsandel Road Deferred 15.20” Coleraine Borough Council minutes

    “C/2006/0612/RM. Approval. Mr S Sweeney Studio Rogers, Nos 51 – 55 Mountsandel Road, Coleraine. A residential development of 18 No. apartments ”

    Foster was attended by her officials in Belfast on July 9. I understand one was a planning officer from Coleraine. IIRC she supposedly put a plan for additional apartments on hold subject to further consideration.

  • Skintown Lad

    no its not. but the fact that baby doc was a bit wary of revealing how much he knows sweeney is not enough to declare him corrupt.

  • Skintown Lad

    fair enough, nevin. she should have said “i know this guy sweeney has a number of planning applications in for coleraine”, if she could remember and link the name. rather than saying “i know nothing about him”.

    but so what? where does that get us?

  • Nevin

    Skintown, can you please give us your definition of, “I know of him”?

  • Peter Brown

    My keu question is what does IPJ’s solicitor say about Ballyallaght? Have they an SDLT5 Stamp Duty form showing it was transferred in 2004/5 or if not why not? If so why is there no application at Land Registry? Alarm bells will be ringing in Northern Bank (I’ll leave the obvious jokes about that to someone else)if they have a mortgage in IPJ & Mrs IPJ’s name for a property not owned by them.

    However merely to buy a house in a development you lobbied for while a little disingenuous is not immoral much less illegal – still lots of smoke but no fire (or gun). More innuendo than substance IMHO……..

  • Skintown Lad

    nevin, i’m afraid i don’t know what the question was so i can’t assess paisley’s answer to it – do you know it?

    although subject to that i agree paisley was not presenting the true extent of his relationship with sweeney

    my point is that he deserves to be pulled up on this but that the investigation looked weak/incomplete and the spolight programme premature, particularly as they don’t appear to have followed through on the house thing. perhaps spotlight would rather insinuate wrongdoing than disprove themselves

  • John East Belfast

    Peter Brown

    Yes it is very important that the ownership of the holiday home is cleared up.

    My experience of these things is that it would not be registered in a ‘new owner’s’ name because

    1. His solicitor didnt do a thorough job – this has actually happened to me.

    2. Land Registery has made a bollix of it – very possible – and this is what IPJ was effectively saying on the programme

    3. The house did not pass hands for a financial consideration and those in possession of it havent got around to doing all the paperwork – perhaps giving them room someday to change their minds.
    The fact that it could have been a gift was being hinted at in the programme.

    IPJ could of course clear all this up in minutes – ie produce the Northern Bank Statements and draw down documentation that support his assertion that he is paying a monthly Direct Debit for the loan – it is all very simple.

    Needless to say if 3 was the case this would be catastrophic for IPJ considering what he has been saying about the matter.

    He should forget about solicitors statements and produce the Bank Statements and he could actually use this to knock for six all the programme’s insinuations.

    If he cant produce the Bank Statements then he is in deep shit..

    This matter should be pursued to a conclusion.

  • strange lighting on little ian on that show

  • mmmmmm

    I might be wrong but until very recently, may even have been some time in 2005 it was not compulsary to inform the land registry people about a new owner..can anyone confirm this?

    Either way, it is just another example of the DUP’s jobs for the boys (and wives and sons…and daughters) attitude to life….I am not surprised, even if they can wiggle their way out it still stinks.

    This type of behavior has always been hinted at prevously, I think Robinson also ‘knows of’ Frazer and his son lives/ed in a Frazer house – I wonder how much he paid for that?

  • joeCanuck

    There certainly may have been little new on the programme for denizens of Slugger.
    But the whole business may have just been received for the first time by a wider audience.

  • Skintown Lad

    as i see it, if an elected representative sees something as good for an area he is entitled to support it, whether or not he happens to be friends with people interested in it. where paisley appears to have gone wrong is not being entirely open about the fact that he is friends with the person interested in the causeway plan.

    at another level of seriousness, an elected representative is obliged to declare any personal financial interest in the matter and is obviously not permitted to accept inducements for personal gain for lending his support.

    if paisley is guilty of the second point (by gaining from the house) he should be hung drawn and quartered. this completely overshadows the first point in terms of seriousness. the disappointing thing about the spotlight programme is that they messed about trying to prove the first point and didn’t do enough investigating of the second, instead relying on the fog they had generated through all that nonsense about McAllister and his benefit fraud. the fact that the second, much more sensational story, was not built on very solid foundations, suggests that spotlight found it couldn’t be built at all.

  • Peter Brown


    Of your options

    1. Hard to believe that a solicitor was caught out….but I would say that wouldn’t I!!! If so he / she would have to state this in his statement so even less likely to get a confession about this from his solicitor!
    2. Would be plausible except that as James Russell pointed out (SL beware he is in fact an expert!) there is no application pending ie lodged 3 years later but ordinarily more likely than 1. but for this
    3. Stamp Duty forms would had to have been submitted within 30 days of completion irrespective of whether it was payable or not and therefore IPJ or his lawyer should be able to produce the relevant SDLT5 HMRC Certificate from 2004 or 2005 and put this to bed once and for all – if not why not. It’s a better indicator than bank statements…..


    “I might be wrong but until very recently, may even have been some time in 2005 it was not compulsary to inform the land registry people about a new owner..can anyone confirm this?”

    Sorry but you are wrong….

  • Nevin

    “SDLT5 HMRC Certificate”

    Peter, could an FoI request succeed in releasing the information contained in the document relating to #1 Ballyallaght Farm Cottages?

  • Ballygobackwards

    Interesting to note that when Sweeney actually sat down and explained his proposals and all of the to-ing and fro-ing there has been over the issue on Nolan today, 58% of people who teted in said they would support his development proposals. But sure, lets not let that get in the way of (a) trying to destroy Ian Paisley’s reputation and (b) trying to portray Seymour Sweeney as the Devil Incarnate.

    Fact of the matter is that Sweeney’s development will save the tax-payer £20million.

    The whole thing was a hatchet job from start to finish. I particularly liked the close camera shots of Ian Junior with a light shining directly in his face in order to pick up any facial movement at all and make him look especially sinister.

    Oh and as for the deed of transfer stuff. I am sorting mine out at present – 2 years after selling my home. Solicitors make cock-ups and land registry is useless!

  • Ballygobackwards

    texted in , not teted in

  • Peter Brown

    Doubt FoI applies to the Inland Revenue but I expect that there will be an application lodged in Land Registry very shortly and you should be able to see it then….

  • ulsterfan

    Is the Sweeney plan the only viable and realistic one on the table? This may indeed be the case.
    Those of us who want the development to stay in public ownership are in danger of not seeing the wood for the trees.
    Whilst it is right to pay attention to the role of Paisley Jr let us at the same time push our politicians to get on with the task of drawing up an alternative plan on the original site which is superior to any proposed by a private developer so that their plans can be defeated purely on the merits of design etc.
    If our elected representatives sit around doing nothing this leaves the field open to a Developer who is then bound to succeed and that being the case good luck to him, an outcome I do not welcome.

  • Nevin

    Ulsterfan, the only councillor backing the privately developed visitor’s centre on Coleraine and Moyle Councils was the DUP’s David McAllister.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Foster is now waiting for an application from the public sector in order to get her off the hook. Perhaps Dodds NO to such a development isn’t as firm as it sounded on Spotlight.

    Seaport/Sweeney’s earlier plan for the development of the site in front of the Nook – an Arts and Crafts Centre – was thrown out by PACNI in 2002 so it’s unlikely that his new plans would pass muster if they had to undergo a Public Inquiry.

  • ulsterfan

    Nevin thanks once again.
    We need a world class visitors centre and there is no reason why the Assembly Dept headed by Dodds should not provide.
    Parts of the business can be leased to the private sector but overall control remain in public ownership.
    Let the Assembly get on with it and take the initiative.
    The cost to the public purse (20m) is a red herring.
    With the number of visitors set to rise this is a very good investment with a short pay back time.

  • joeCanuck

    Although the Spotlight site opens for me, the program won’t run (doesn’t even open Real Player).
    Anyone have any idea why?

  • David Ford

    Although this thread seems to have little to do with Planning, and lots to do with relationships between various people, Nevin asked about the Assembly Committee at post 7 on page 2.

    Briefly (relatively)

    When the Minister and senior Planning Service officials attended the Committee on 20 September, she agreed to release the Seaport application file to the committee. The head of Planning Service assured me personally that when I read the file, I would be assured that the concerns of UNESCO had been taken on board. I had spent some time prior to that meeting reading both the UNESCO report and the draft Northern Area Plan, and nothing said at the meeting lessened my concerns that the proposal from Seaport was contrary to both.

    A few days later, members had the opportunity to read the file in Parliament Buildings. I was accompanied by two people who had previously read the file, who were able to inform me that there was nothing on the file that was not on the ‘public file’, ie available to anyone who visited the appropriate office.

    Specifically missing were any records of internal discussions or reports to higher levels in the Planning Service, including Management Board and Minister. Such information would be available to a local Councillor on more modest applications at the time the Council was consulted with a preliminary report.

    However, as well as numerous objections, there were various papers from sections of the EHS, which included grounds for objection to the plan, numbered 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7. I made a sweeping assumption that there might also be grounds 1 and 3 for objection.

    Since there was nothing/little on the file to support the application, and much to oppose it, the Committee accepted my proposal that we should seek sight of the full file, on the basis that the Legislature should be treated (at least) no worse than local Councils.

    We await the Department’s response.

  • Nevin

    Thanks, David.

    Are you surprised that no one in the Executive has raised a possible breach of the Ministerial Code viz section 2.4 (i)

    2.4 Duty to bring matters to the attention of the Executive Committee
    (i) cuts across the responsibilities of two or more Ministers;

  • David Ford

    As Leader of the Opposition, I have no particular insights into the workings of the Executive. It may be that the Executive is quite happy to let two Ministers deal with the matter if it only affects their Departments.

    However, we have never been given a full explanation why DETI announced an immediate withdrawal from any involvement in the public sector Causeway Visitor Centre when DOE has only announced a minded to approve Seaport’s plans.

  • Unknown Joke

    AND it came to pass in the year 2007, that verily, the Lord came unto Noah, (who was now living in Ballymoney), and said,

    “Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see all manner of evils, terrorists in government and the end of all flesh before me.

    “Build me another Ark and save two of every living thing, along with a few good Free Presbyterians.”

    And lo, He gave Noah the CAD drawings, saying,

    “You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights.”

    Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard – but no Ark.

    “Noah!” He roared, “I’m about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?”

    “Forgive me, Lord,” begged Noah, “but things have changed. I needed Building Control approval and I’ve been arguing with the Fire Brigade about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbours claim that I should have obtained planning permission for building the Ark in my garden because it is development of the site, even though in my view it is a temporary structure. We had to then go to appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission for a decision. Once Seymour Sweeney saw what I was up to, he submitted alternative plans with the backing of the local MP, and you have no idea how hard it was convincing a Paisley that you were actually on my side. Then the Department of the Environment demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions to clear the passage for the Ark’s move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear nothing of it. Getting the wood was another problem. All the decent trees have Tree Conservation Orders on them and we live in a Site of Special Scientific Interest set up in order to protect the spotted owl. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls – but no go! And in July I had to pay off racketeers as insurance against the local kids taking the wood for the Eleventh Night bonfire. When I started gathering the animals, the USPCA sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodation was too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space. They said if he spotted me with any pit bulls, I would never see the Ark float. Nor was I aware that marching the animals on to the Ark two by two constituted a parade, so I had to apply to the Parades Commission for permission. They just couldn’t get their heads round the fact that the end of the world is nigh, and that telling people it was could maybe even have a positive effect on community relations. Then the Borough Council, the DoE and the Rivers Authority ruled that couldn’t build the Ark until they’d conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood. I’m still trying to resolve a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission on how many disabled carpenter’s I’m supposed to hire for my building team. The trades unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to hire only accredited workers with Ark-building experience. Then Harland & Wolff stepped in, and said the project hadn’t been subject to normal tendering practices, as they hadn’t been allowed to present a business plan, so the whole thing went to judicial review. It didn’t help that the judge’s grandfather had worked on the Titanic and
    thought I was taking the piss. To make matters worse, Customs and Excise seized all my assets, claiming I’m trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species. After several neighbours accused me of being ‘on drugs’, the Assets Recovery Agency took some persuading that I had managed to put this project together without any visible means of income after I said I was relying on divine intervention. So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark.”

    Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder and asked,

    “You mean you’re not going to destroy Northern Ireland?”

    “No,” said the Lord. “The Assembly beat me to it.”

  • runciter

    Fact of the matter is that Sweeney’s development will save the tax-payer £20million.

    Aye… if we ignore the opportunity cost of lost visitor centre revenues.

    D’ye think we’re all daft?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Never mind the revenue, it’s also unlikely any publicly-funded centre would cost £21 million, if yesterday’s Irish News is to be believed:

    Three quarters of the cost of a publicly-funded visitors’ centre for the Giant’s Causeway could be provided by the European Union, it has been claimed.

    Enterprise minister Nigel Dodds scrapped plans for the public project last month saying it would save the taxpayer £21 million.

    But the DUP minister admitted yesterday that up to 75 per cent of the cost of building the visitor’s centre could be provided by the EU under the Territorial Co-Operation Programme.

    In a letter to MEP Jim Allister, a former party colleague, Mr Dodds also said that if a private visitor’s centre was built, only 37 per cent of the costs could be provided by the EU.

    The plans were shelved last month after environment minister Arlene Foster said she was “minded” to grant planning permission for a privately-funded centre.

    Mr Allister said it was important that Northern Ireland’s “greatest national asset” was not exploited for private profit when a public project was viable.

    “While there is no certainty that EU funding would be guaranteed, the possibility of attaining 75 per cent support from Brussels seems to me a proper consideration in the public interest, which makes Deti’s willingness to abandon the public project all the more puzzling,” he said.

  • Nevin

    “It may be that the Executive is quite happy to let two Ministers deal with the matter if it only affects their Departments.”

    Are you entitled to ask if the matter was brought to the Executive – as Leader of the Opposition, David?

  • Nevin

    BG, I’ve put a link to Allister’s letter on the more recent thread, “Lobbying up to the edge and beyond”, including some additional material.

  • ulsterfan

    Even if the original cost is 20m it will soon be recouped.
    There are at least 500,000 visitors pa and rising.
    What income does that not generate—–very significant and enough to repay original investment and soon to be in profit.
    The public ownership becomes so attractive with grants from EU funding.
    As a matter of principle the Causeway must remain under the control of the State but it also makes such good business sense.