Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Causeway row focus back on Paisleys

The storm over a proposed Giant's Causeway visitor centre was back at the door of the Paisley family today, with no sign that the row is easing off.

First Minister Ian Paisley and his politician son Ian Jnr are being challenged once again over their lobbying for would-be centre developer Seymour Sweeney, who is a DUP member.

They are being challenged to publicly withdraw claims that Mr Sweeney's Causeway scheme had the approval of world heritage body Unesco. The developer yesterday confirmed that there had never been any official blessing from the international organisation - and retracted a past claim he had made.

Mr Paisley Jnr has meanwhile disclosed that he lobbied in support of a Bushmills housing development planned by Mr Sweeney, and later bought one of the properties himself.

The DUP MLA has denied that this represented a conflict of interest.

"Whenever the houses came on the market I bought one. I bought it at the full market value and I wasn't advanced in any way or advantaged in any way by supporting the application," he added.

The issue of Unesco's position was raised at a press conference held by Mr Sweeney yesterday. He said: "It is very important to clear this up. I have never said that we had Unesco approval for the scheme."

After the conference, the Belfast Telegraph showed Mr Sweeney a statement issued by his company Seaport in 2002.

It said: "At a meeting with senior Unesco personnel in Paris in September 2001, Seaport Investment representatives received wholehearted approval for its proposal for a world-class visitor centre which was submitted to Moyle District Council the following month."

Mr Sweeney yesterday commented: "You can put that to me and if I said that, that's fine, but it's not correct. I'm happy to retract that."

The developer has also told this newspaper that he could not rule out tabling proposals for further commercial development in the vicinity of his proposed Causeway visitor centre, such as a new hotel. He added: "Depending upon the type and size of a hotel, if it's properly addressed and designed, there is no reason why any landscape cannot generally take development."

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