Belfast Telegraph

Edwin Poots brands 'conflict of interest' allegation a 'smear'

By Jonathan Bell

A DUP MLA has said Green Party allegations of a possible conflict of interest between him and his son on planning matters are "a smear".

The Northern Ireland Ombudsman is investigating to determine if there has been a conflict of interest concerning Luke Poots, son of the former Health Minister Edwin over planning matters, the BBC has reported.

Luke Poots is a councillor on Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council and is chair of its planning committee.

The Green Party lodged the complaint claiming there has been a conflict of interest in planning decisions made on which Edwin Poots lobbied the council while Luke sat as chair on its committee.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office advises that a perception of a conflict of interest "can be just as significant as an actual conflict of interest".

Both men deny any wrong doing stating independent legal advice was taken on the matter which has at all times been followed. Luke said every time his father lobbied on a matter he declared an interest.

"I have done everything by the book. I am 100% in the clear. Every time I have been in the chair when my dad speaks I have declared an interest," said Luke.

Edwin Poots said the allegations were "political mischief" and there was no substance to them.

He said: "The Green Party - another political party - lodged a complaint with the ombudsman.

"Rather than allowing the ombudsman to do the work they have then gone to the media. There is not an allegation of substance that has been made.

"This is purely an attempt to do politics by smear and innuendo with no evidence base for any wrong doing whatsoever.

"This is not the first time, the Greens have done this and last year they reported me to the Assembly Ombudsman on a separate issue which was immediately thrown out.

"Indeed the Green Party was rebuked by the Ombudsman for how they conducted themselves."

Edwin Poots rejected any possible perception of a conflict of interest, he added: "From the first meeting Luke sat on he sought the direction of the council. It took independent legal advice and he has followed the protocol from the outset.

"There has not been a perception, there has been dozens of meetings subsequently and this is a creation of the Green Party and some of their supporters.

"It is pernicious and it is nasty.

"Where people are representing constituents and doing their job you have a party that can't get anybody elected seeks to undermine you in doing the job."

Luke Poots has been contacted for a comment. His father said Luke would not be commenting because of the ongoing investigation.

Luke said he would no longer take part in planning committee matters where his father makes representations.

In a statement, he said: "On being appointed to the Planning Committee of Lisburn Castlereagh City Council I asked for advice on my role if my father made representations to the Committee.  The Council received legal advice from their independent legal advisors which I have always followed.

"Until the Ombudsman completes this investigation into the Green Party’s  pernicious complaint, to further reinforce public confidence, I will not participate in the Committee when my father makes a representation."

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said they received a complaint which was referred to the ombudsman.

"It is important that our planning system is above board and is seen to be above board," he said.

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, the party said: "The Green Party cannot comment any further on this case because it is a live investigation, but can confirm that the complaint was made after the issue was raised with Steven Agnew by a Green Party member."

Lisburn and Castlereagh Council said it would be making no comment on the matter.

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