So far the controversy around Ian Paisley Junior have been embarrassing, but not much more than that. Yet as one senior source told the Irish Times a couple of days ago, “…stories about Ian’s lobbying activities are continuing to haunt him and the party.” According to Jeffrey Donaldson on Hearts and Minds last night, “Ian Paisley was looking for things that were constituency matters”, but it seems there are some rumblings about the manner in which he sought to lobby over land sparked concerns that were reported directly to the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service Nigel Hamilton.David Gordon, in the Belfast Telegraph, has been doing a little digging:
Ms Ritchie’s special adviser at the time, Brian Barrington, has now given his account of events. When contacted by this newspaper in Dublin, Mr Barrington confirmed he was also spoken to by Mr Paisley jnr about the Ballee land issue, while working as a ministerial adviser.
Mr Barrington said: “I was phoned twice in one day by Ian Paisley jnr’s ministerial private secretary, but I said on both occasions that I was not able to speak to him. He phoned me personally the next day and asked what was happening regarding the Ballee land.”
Mr Barrington said he notified senior officials in the Department for Social Development (DSD) about the contacts. He said civil servants were ” concerned” to ensure that ministerial facilities were not used for constituency matters. “I understood from DSD officials at that time that the matter was referred to the head of the civil service who raised it with Mr Paisley jnr’s office,” he added.
Mr Paisley responded:
There are proper procedures put in place that allow for my diaries to be combined – my private constituency work would be combined with ministerial duties. The only meetings that were arranged and calls that took place was a civil servant making that arrangement.
If complaints were made by civil servants, it would be very instructive to know on precisely what grounds those complaints were made.
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