Slugger’s journalist of the year, David Gordon, has been patiently following up the loose ends of a story noted earlier this year. The interesting point in the response to the latest FOI request isn’t that the First Minister hasn’t attempted to intervene in the funding – after all, as Edwin Poots put it, “There is little point making decisions that will end up being overturned in a court of law.” The interesting point is that the response, from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, contradicts what Ian Paisley Snr told both the Belfast Telegraph and his Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian church congregation. As David Gordon recounts.
Mr Paisley spoke to the Belfast Telegraph in August about responsibility for the money being passed to Westminster. “I never signed it,” he said. “They had to change it. Our hands were absolutely clean. It had nothing to with us,” he stated.
Mr Paisley also made a statement on the subject to his Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian church congregation in January this year. He said he had been told as First Minister that he had to hand over the remainder of the money agreed by Mr Hain. “Says I they are not getting one ha’ppeny from me,” the church heard. “The civil servants said you need to sign there. Says I: no signature, take it away, don’t come back to me.”
Mr Paisley continued: “They took the paper to Westminster and signed it at Westminster and they gave them the money they had promised, but I never gave them a penny, not a penny.” He also said: “They told me that if I didn’t do it I would be put in prison. Says I: roll on the prison, I’ve been there before.”
And the latest response to the FOI request..
OFMDFM has now spelt out its position in reply to a detailed Freedom of Information request from this newspaper. It stated: “In July 2006 the then Secretary of State Peter Hain announced his intention to award a short term fund to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender sector. No further Ministerial authorisation was or will be sought in respect of payments of the fund.” The Stormont department was also asked for any dates, following the return of devolution, when the funding package was discussed at the House of Commons.
It stated: “There are no dates relevant to this request.” On the subject of any Commons reports on the grant-aid, OFMDFM likewise stated: “There are no reports relevant to this request.” The department’s reply also said that there had been “no correspondence between OFMDFM and the Northern Ireland Office on OFMDFM allocations to gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender groups”.
The fund is apparently administered by CoSO. And, from the Belfast Telegraph report – “OFMDFM has given the grant allocation dates so far as March 2007, July 2007 and February 2008, with £50,000 issued on each occasion.”