DESPITE what he said previously about possession being nine-tenths of the law, Ian Paisley Jr still doesn’t legally own the house he claims to have bought off controversial property developer Seymour Sweeney (after lobbying for it to be built – and there’s plenty more to come on the extent of Mr Paisley’s lobbying for Mr Sweeney). After describing it as “an administrative hiccup in Land Registry“, Mr Paisley’s cottage still seems to be registered in Mr Sweeney’s wife’s name. The Land Registry seems to think the fault is Mr Paisley’s, as the application “cannot be processed due to the fact that all the necessary documents are not attached”. The agency added: “This particular application has now been scrutinised and same is incomplete and will be returned to the lodging solicitor.” UPDATE: David Gordon reveals the sustained lobbying by Mr Paisley for the Sweeney Causeway centre, which seems to go somewhat beyond the call of duty to a constituent to me.To clear up any confusion about ownership on Mr Paisley’s part, LRNI’s statement said:
“Legal ownership rests with the person who is registered as owner on the Land Register. This is the only person who is able to legally deal with the lands – to sell, alter the property, mortgage or charge the property, carry out any works on same.
“Where purchase monies and keys have been exchanged the purchaser will have an equitable interest in the property, but legal ownership will not pass until registration has been effected.”
Land Registry is an agency of the Department of Finance, which is, of course, run by Mr Paisley’s DUP colleague, Peter Robinson.
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has accused the DUP-controlled Department of the Environment’s Planning Service of “using the cloak of procedure” to avoid a freedom of information (FoI) request to publish documents relating to the Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre discussions.
The News Letter reported:
The MEP asked to see the report, all other departmental documentation, on the Sweeney application, and any correspondence between Department of Enterprise Minister Nigel Dodds and Minister Foster on the future of the visitors’ centre (as Mr Dodds, also on September 10, withdrew support for a publicly backed venture).
Planning Service accepted “strong public interest” in the matter and the need for transparency and accountability, with regard to decisions by the DoE and minister.
But it also noted there had not been a final decision yet.
It said: “As regards the report from the Planning Service to the minister, I wish to advise you this is an internal document which, in our opinion, falls within the terms of the exception under regulation 12 (4) (e) of the Regulations which states that – ‘a public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that the request involves the disclosure of internal communications’.”
The letter went on to say: “It is essential that the minister has the time and space required to fully consider all the issues and advice provided before reaching a fully- formed view on the issue at hand. The department believes that this process would be substantially prejudiced by disclosure of advice and guidance provided to the minister prior to a decision being taken.
“The department is therefore of the opinion that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this time.”
Mr Nicholson said this raised more serious questions.
– DoE/Planning Service say the minister has not yet taken a final decision on the application. Why then did the minister disclose that she was of a mind to approve Seymour Sweeney’s application?
– If the DoE Minister has not made her mind up – why then did Tourism Minister Nigel Dodds, on the very same day as the DoE Minister made her announcement, withdraw DETI support for the DETI/NI Tourist Board plans for a visitors’ centre at the Giant’s Causeway?
– DoE has said it does not hold any correspondence between the DoE and the DETI Minister on the issue, yet both ministers made announcements on the visitors’ centre almost simultaneously in the Assembly, on the same day.
– Who are the DOE to decide what the public interest is? Just what are the department hiding?
Commenting further, Mr Nicholson said: “The department is hiding behind the cloak of procedure, refused to disclose the information I requested. In light of what has transpired in recent weeks I find this decision completely bizarre.”