The Robinsons face more Castlebawn questions

Talking of further allegations, I’m confused about the Castlebawn business. Was there a conflict of interest over Castlebawn in Iris Robinson’s Assembly question and her husband’s written answer way back in 2002? Peter Robinson appears to be telling Liam Clarke in the Sunday Times that it was the DUP and not the Robinsons personally who paid Ken Campbell for the Newtownards advice centre premises which were sold on to a consortium linked to the former Castlebawn developer five years later.

Robinson has also dismissed suggestions by the BBC that he bought an office in Newtownards, Co Down, from Ken Campbell for £1 (€1.13) in August 2007 and later sold it for £200,000. Campbell was one of two businessman who gave £25,000 to Iris for McCambley to set up a restaurant. Robinson said the DUP paid more than £200,000. “The BBC were given the details including correspondence between me and [Campbell’s] solicitor, along with a copy of the cheque that was paid, and on that basis decided not to make the accusation [on air],” he said.

But in answer to the Observer and Guardian corrspondent’s questions, a DUP spokesman is quoted as saying:

Regarding the Robinsons obtaining the North Street property in Newtonards, the DUP spokesman said: “The transfer for the nominal consideration of £1 was to conclude a Trust arrangement in place at the time. Mr and Mrs Robinson paid the full price, stamp duty and all legal fees.” Asked if any money from selling the same property went into DUP coffers, the party spokesman said: “The North Street sale to Armstrong and others was an arm’s-length transaction for full value and the title was never held in the name of the party at any stage.”

If the Robinsons paid the full value and not £1, the profit on the transaction of £7909 was quite small as the property boom subsided, and Iris was then perfectly fairly able to claim rent on parliamentary expenses for premises she and her husband or the party no longer owned. A neat but unremarkable series of transactions over less than two years. But did the party benefit from the sale or not? It’s hardly surprising that this network of relationship raises suspicions in the present fevered atmosphere.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London