Environment Minister Arlene Foster has categorically stated that she tackled the Giant's Causeway visitor centre issue totally unaware that her party leader and his son had lobbied for would-be developer Seymour Sweeney.
In her first detailed newspaper interview on the controversy, the minister also indicated that a final decision on Mr Sweeney's Causeway centre planning application is still months away.
Mrs Foster announced on September 10 that she was "of a mind" to grant permission to the property tycoon's scheme.
DUP Enterprise Minister Nigel Dodds responded within minutes by shelving alternative plans for a new publicly-owned visitor centre at the famous tourist attraction.
Since then, the party has faced criticism over the fact that Mr Sweeney is a DUP member and has been supported by party leader Ian Paisley and his politician son, Ian Paisley Jnr.
Details of Mr Paisley Jnr's sustained backing for the developer on the visitor centre and other projects have slowly emerged in the past few weeks.
Mrs Foster has emphasised that she did not know about Mr Sweeney's party affiliation and has not been lobbied by anyone since becoming minister in May.
She has further told the Belfast Telegraph the visitor centre issue was never discussed at any party meetings she has attended.
And she firmly stated that she had no knowledge of the stance taken by the Paisleys.
"Why would I know what a constituency's MP and MLAs were pushing for?" she asked.
"I wouldn't have a clue, for example, what other MPs and MLAs are pushing for in other areas."
The minister also said: "There was no reason before May why Ian Jnr or Dr Paisley or anybody else would have spoken to me about this issue.
"Since then, I have not had any meetings with Dr Paisley and Ian Jnr and I was not aware that they were supporting Seymour Sweeney in his application.
"If there's something on previous files or with previous ministers or whatever, I was not privy to that information when I came into office.
"I don't have the right to see previous ministers' files. That's civil service protocol."
Mrs Foster said she was focused on dealing with Mr Sweeney's planning application - and made clear she would not be commenting on anything else.
She has identified four areas of concern in the developer's proposed scheme: its impact on the Causeway's UNESCO World Heritage site status; its ability to integrate into the landscape; its relationship to existing developments in the area; and its relationship to present visitor centre facilities run by the National Trust and Moyle Council.
The minister said her department's Planning Service will be holding talks with Mr Sweeney's firm, the trust and council on these matters.
She will then receive a second report from planning chiefs - on top of the report given to her in the summer.
"I'm not going to be prescriptive about when that comes to me. In other words, I'm not saying I have to have it by January or I have to have it by February," she said.
"What I will say is that it will be coming to me in months. It's not going to be something that will drag on."
The minister's final decision will then be taken at this stage.
Referring the application to the independent Planning Appeals Commission for a public inquiry will be an option, alongside rejection or approval.
Mrs Foster has insisted that the first report she received from Planning Service chiefs will not be released until a decision is made.
This puts her into conflict with the Assembly's Environment Committee, which has made a formal request to view the document.
Speculation about the Planning Service's recommendations to the minister has intensified since the revelation that the department's Environment and Heritage section argued for a rejection of Mr Sweeney.
Mrs Foster said releasing the planning report at this stage would set a " very dangerous precedent" in terms of discussions between a minister and officials.
"It is never done in any planning decision," she added.
"At the end of this process, when I've received the second report, both reports will be in the public domain.
"I can't release something now that I haven't finished with."
Mrs Foster admitted that she has been somewhat taken aback by the scale of the controversy that has raged since she and colleague Nigel Dodds made their September 10 announcements.
She said she would have welcomed a debate on the merits of private or public sector funding for a visitor centre.
"I think that was a good discussion to be having, but unfortunately we have gone off into another area which neither Nigel or I are involved in," she said.
She also stated that she had been unaware that junior Stormont Minister Ian Paisley Jnr was going to go onto Radio Ulster's Nolan Show on September 11 to defend her approach.
It was on this programme that the DUP MLA said: "I know of him, yes" when asked if he supported Mr Sweeney.