David Gordon has kindly let us have his thoughts on Junior’s ‘shopping list’ and repeats his long standing offer to give him space in the Belfast Telegraph to put his own case in the matter… There are many more questions than answers…By David Gordon
One key question stands out on the revelations about Ian Paisley jnr’s St Andrews shopping list.
The junior Minister has argued that his constituency requests were raised with direct rule Ministers “on the margins over a cup of tea at various meetings”.
He also maintains they were not connected to the talks on restoring devolution, and that he did not ask for them to be raised with the Prime Minister.
So why did the Northern Ireland Office take them so seriously?
Why were they brought to Tony Blair personally, who was fairly busy at the time, not just with the Northern Ireland negotiations but with yet another Iraq-related crisis?
“The Prime Minister has considered your requests and has agreed that we should try to respond positively,” stated Minister David Hanson, in a letter to Mr Paisley jnr on the crucial last day of the St Andrews talks.
Mr Hanson added: “This letter should be regarded as a statement of intent.”
Could it possibly have been that the NIO saw the North Antrim MLA as central to its task at St Andrews?
After all, he was not just a key party figure and negotiator, but the son of the one man who could single-handedly kill or seal a power-sharing deal.
It would hardly have been surprising if the direct rule team had been keen to keep Ian jnr happy.
And that would mean he had more leverage with the NIO at St Andrews than at any time previously.
Other DUP MLAs could be forgiven for feeling put out, given the new revelations.
Did any of them get the chance to submit constituency requests to the PM?
The answer appears to be no.
And what about the list itself?
To what extent did it reflect the main issues facing North Antrim in October 2006?
There is nothing on it regarding health or education facilities, for example.
And it seems somewhat bizarre that Mr Blair was being asked to consider constituency-level planning issues well below the radar of his normal responsibilities.
Also, if North Antrim constituents had been polled on their top priorities, would they have listed planning approval for a resort spa with 200 homes?
Would their main goals also have included development opportunities for businessman Seymour Sweeney at the Giant’s Causeway and Ballee, Ballymena?
That question, I believe, will be added to those already asked about lobbying on issues related to Mr Sweeney’s business interests.
Should Mr Paisley jnr, for example, have lobbied for a Sweeney holiday home development near Bushmills and later bought one of the properties himself?
Why, until recently, was this house still registered with the Land Registry in the name of Mr Sweeney’s wife?
Why was a public body told by Ian Paisley snr that the developer’s Causeway centre plans had the support of world heritage body UNESCO — a claim that UNESCO has flatly denied.
Should Mr Paisley jnr have lobbied fellow Stormont Minister Margaret Ritchie last year on the sale of the Ballee land — to ex-owners who planned to sell it on to Mr Sweeney and others?
The Belfast Telegraph would like to ask such questions to Mr Paisley jnr personally.
But he has not taken up a long-standing offer of a detailed interview to put his case.
That offer still stands.