Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

DUP keeps distance from issue

The DUP has distanced itself from speculation about the lobbying of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) on the Giant's Causeway visitor centre issue.

The party said any representations at last year's St Andrews talks would have been made in an "individual capacity" without its " knowledge or consent".

It was responding to revelations in last week's Belfast Telegraph about lobbying by DUP politician Ian Paisley Jnr in support of developer Seymour Sweeney's plans for a commercial Causeway centre.

Our report on Friday said the MLA had made personal representations to the NIO Direct Rule Ministerial team - including Planning Minister David Cairns - in the run-up to the restoration of devolution.

It also stated that other parties suspected the Causeway issue had been raised around the October 2006 St Andrews talks on the return of the Assembly.

The DUP statement said: "The Belfast Telegraph has speculated that the issue of the Giant's Causeway visitor centre was raised at St Andrews as part of a 'shopping list' that DUP negotiators wanted the NIO to address. This issue formed no part of the DUP's negotiations. It was not raised by or with the party, nor was it included on any 'shopping list' considered and approved by the party.

"If it was raised on the margins it was done so in an individual capacity and without the party's knowledge or consent.

"The DUP team was at St Andrews to get the best deal for the unionist community on important constitutional and political issues and no element of the party's negotiations was on any constituency or planning issue."

Mr Paisley Jnr has not responded to Belfast Telegraph queries on his lobbying for the Causeway centre scheme tabled by Mr Sweeney, who is a DUP member. His supporters maintain that he has every right to speak up for a businessman in his north Antrim constituency. Speculation about the matter being raised at St Andrews was fuelled last week by the contents of a Government memo obtained by this newspaper.

It was sent by a Department of Enterprise official on October 24, 2006 to a Department of the Environment civil servant.

The email asked for clarification on the planning rules governing visitor centre development at the Causeway.

It concluded: "Grateful if you would come back to me by cop (close of play) today as this is required for Ministerial briefing flowing out of St Andrews."

Mr Paisley Jnr was quoted by the Antrim-based Chronicle in April disclosing that he had lobbied Prime Minister Tony Blair on another Giant's Causeway planning controversy - involving proposals for a multi-million pound golf resort in the district.

The paper reported in April that the MLA had made representations to both Mr Blair and Secretary of State Peter Hain in support of a massive hotel and golf course scheme for Runkerry, close to the Causeway.

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