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Don't blame my department for Paisley cottage saga: Robinson

By David Gordon

DUP Finance Minister Peter Robinson has been drawn into the saga surrounding the registered ownership of a Government colleague's second home.

Junior Stormont Minister Ian Paisley Jnr has been facing questions about his north Antrim address being registered in the name of a property developer's wife.

He last month pointed the finger at an "administrative hiccup" in Land Registers - an agency of party colleague Mr Robinson's finance department.

Mr Robinson has now told the Assembly that the land agency was not responsible for any "administrative irregularities" at the address.

The Finance Minister was briefly drawn into the matter through a written Assembly question tabled by SDLP MLA John Dallat. It related to Ballyallaght Farmyard Cottages, a development near Bushmills where Mr Paisley Jnr has his constituency address.

In reply, Mr Robinson stated: "I can confirm that Land Registers NI is not responsible for any administrative irregularities at Ballyallaght Farm Cottages, Bushmills."

The Ballyallaght properties were built by Seymour Sweeney, the property tycoon behind contentious plans for a commercial Giant's Causeway visitor centre development.

Mr Paisley's address at the site has been registered in the name of Mr Sweeney's wife, Carol.

The politician has emphasised that he bought the property on the open market three years ago at full market value.

He was asked about the registration of the house for a BBC Spotlight documentary broadcast on October 23, and said: "I am aware that there is some sort of administrative hiccup in Land Registry.

"It is legally in my name. I can assure you it is mine. Possession is nine tenths of the law."

In a radio interview the following day, the junior minister said: "I did come on to your programme this morning and I heard a number of your callers ringing in and saying no surprise at Land Registry on this one."

Land Registers NI issued a statement on the case to the Belfast Telegraph a few days later. It said an application for registration had been hand delivered to it on October 23 - the date the Spotlight programme was screened.

The agency also said the application had been "incomplete" and was being returned to the "lodging solicitor".

A spokesman for Land Registers NI has now told this newspaper that a further application has since been received.

The agency has stressed that legal ownership of a property officially rests with the person who is registered as owner on the Land Register.

The Belfast Telegraph sought to contact Mr Paisley Jnr about Mr Robinson's Assembly answer, but received no response.

Mr Sweeney has emphasised that the Ballyallaght house was sold at full market value to Mr Paisley Jnr in October 2004.

The junior minister has been one of the strongest supporters of Mr Sweeney's Causeway centre project. He also lobbied in support of the 2001 planning application for Ballyallaght Farmyard Cottages.

Belfast Telegraph

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