Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

The Insider: Finance Minister gets sums wrong

Quote of the week came from a tetchy Finance Minister Peter Robinson on BBC's Hearts and Minds.

Speaking on the subject of a peace dividend, Pete said: "Nobody in the world talked about £50billion."

The Finance Minister might like to look up HM Treasury's website and a press release issued in November last year entitled: "Chancellor sets out St Andrews agreement funding package for Northern Ireland".

It said: "The Chancellor set out a funding package for the Northern Ireland Executive worth £50billion over the next 10 years that could follow a final agreement."

Released just in time for the tea-time news, this press release ensured a festival of hype (thankfully short-lived) about the peace dividend supposedly on offer.



Freedom, isn't it ironic..?

A Co Antrim reader has a question for Insider devotees, prompted by last week's attack on Freedom of Information by esteemed First Minister Ian Paisley.

The DUP leader, lest we forget, hit out at the use of the legislation by " lazy journalists, who will not do any work but who think that we should pay them".

Our reader asks: "I'm sure I can recall an organisation whose members continued to be paid for more than four years without it doing its job.

"Can anyone out there remember its name? It might have had 'Assembly' somewhere in its title."

Meanwhile, the League of Lazy Journalists formed in honour of the First Minister has had a disappointing first week.

No one at all has made the effort to join up.

And the founder members haven't even bothered sending out application forms.

An inaugural general meeting now seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Dr Paisley isn't the first to complain that curiousity is killing the civil service.

A few years ago, before FoI was introduced, it was Assembly members who were the problem. Members were hitting Executive staff with so many written questions that the then Speaker, Lord Alderdice, considered introducing a limit.

One MLA was identified as a particularly conscientious questioner, outstripping his colleagues in his unrelenting scrutiny on behalf of the people.

Who was this liberator of information? Take a bow, Ian Paisley junior!



Clear as muddy water

So where does the Ulster Unionist Party stand on the prospect of water charges being added to our rates?

Over to Michael McGimpsey, who declared last week on BBC's Let's Talk: " The situation is that we all said we wouldn't charge for water and now apparently there's this suggestion that we will and if we're going to charge, what we had before was a process that was clearly bringing us forward to water charges and we were talking about water as a precious resource, please save it and so on and so forth, and this is a land of water, there's water coming everyday so there's no question of a shortage of water, this is not a desert country, this is a country, a wet country, we've plenty of water and I think that's one of the things that we all did."

Thanks for clearing that up, Minister.



Who will win in this race against time?

By a curious coincidence, members of the Rosemary Nelson Inquiry flew into Belfast this week on the same plane as the team from Channel 4's archaeological fun fest, Time Team. We know which dig into the past will be finished first and which will cost more. But we can't help wondering: which one will discover more?



Times clarifies causeway case

The Sunday Times carried a 'clarification' in a recent edition.

It said an article in the paper in September "may have given the impression that Seymour Sweeney's planning application for a visitor centre at Giant's Causeway (pictured) has been approved by Unesco. This is not the case. An earlier plan for the centre was seen by Unesco in 2001."

We understand this clarification was carried in response to a request from Mr Sweeney's company Seaport.

So where does it leave Ian Paisley's famous January 2003 letter to the Heritage Lottery Fund which said the developer had Unesco approval and should get grant-aid support?

It was being put about within the DUP - and accepted by TV news reports - that this related to Mr Sweeney's earlier scheme for a centre on land owned by Moyle Council.

As has already been pointed out, his prior proposal had actually collapsed by February 2002, when Moyle Council took its site off the market.

The Insider can also now reveal that Mr Sweeney's Heritage Lottery Fund application was made in May 2002, and so could not have related to his earlier scheme.



Springvale report was one of a kind

Last week's scathing Assembly Public Accounts Committee report on the failed Springvale university campus plans contained an allegation that is surely worthy of further investigation.

It related to consultancy fees and was made in a letter to the Committee by the West Belfast Partnership Board.

Published as an appendix to last week's report, the Board's submission said a weekend consultation meeting was held on the Springvale scheme in 2001. It continued: "For this purpose London-based consultants arrived for the weekend at a cost of almost £60,000 to work for two days and draw up a report.

"The community sector representatives provided their skills and expertise for free; in fact these representatives carried the bulk of the work for the weekend both in terms of preparation and during the consultation.

"The final report was produced and the kindest thing that can be said about it was that it was printed."

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