Belfast Telegraph

Whistleblower status bid by councillor over Northern Ireland hotel plan recordings

By Alan Erwin

A councillor who allegedly recorded conversations with officials connected to a legal challenge over a planned £20m hotel and leisure complex on the north coast is seeking whistleblower status, the High Court has heard.

Padraig McShane confirmed the step being taken amid claims his actions have left him with "much to lose".

Adjourning Causeway Coast and Glens Council's bid to secure an order for disclosure of any relevant tapes, a judge backed his plea for more time to seek legal advice.

Mr Justice McCloskey said: "Prima facie, councillor McShane has acted in a courageous and highly responsible fashion. I accept at this stage... his assertion that he has nothing to gain from bringing all of this upon himself, and indeed he goes on to suggest he has much to lose."

The intervention by Mr McShane has led to proceedings mounted by TUV leader Jim Allister being put on hold. Mr Allister is judicially reviewing the council for giving the green light to the luxury accommodation facilities in Portstewart.

Mr McShane was a member of its planning committee, which approved the proposed resort at the heart of the North West 200 race route earlier this year. Plans include a 120-bedroom hotel, spa, holiday cottages, conference facilities and restaurant being built on the Ballyreagh Road.

But in a dramatic development, it emerged last week Mr McShane has sent a sworn affidavit to both the Attorney General and the NI Public Services Ombudsman setting out his claims.

He told the court that he has "hours" of recorded material.

Yesterday he set out his steps to seek whistleblower status. He said he embarked on the "venture" in October.

"Every (time) I tried to blow the whistle I was denied," he said. "I thought alarm bells would sound, but it wasn't the case. I feel I was left with no option; I apologise to the court, but I had to hand in the affidavit."

A council barrister stressed he was acting in its best interests as a corporate body by seeking discovery of any recordings.

Permission for the hotel complex was first given in June 2017, but withdrawn after Mr Allister initially threatened legal action. He recommenced proceedings when council representatives later passed the application.

Alan Kane QC, for Mr Allister, described Mr McShane's allegations as serious and significant.

Adjourning the disclosure application to February, Mr Justice McCloskey described the situation in the case as unprecedented. He said it involved "a veritable tsunami of one unexpected development after another".

The judge said the developer has lawfully been granted planning permission, but he decided Mr McShane's plea "that he be given some further time to seek advice in the midst of this maelstrom is irresistible".

Belfast Telegraph

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