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First Minister Peter Robinson didn’t declare a link to daughter’s £212,000 property

By David Gordon

Peter Robinson is to check if he breached Assembly and House of Commons rules by not declaring a link to a £212,000 property.

Belfast Telegraph inquiries have discovered that the First Minister is officially listed as co-owner of his daughter’s home in the Dundonald area.

But the connection has not been declared in the registers of interests at Stormont or Westminster.

After inquiries about the issue the DUP has now launched a furious attack on this newspaper, accusing it of a “despicable campaign” against its leader.

Records at the Government's Land Registry state that Mr Robinson and his adult daughter are “full owners” of the Dundonald address. It states that a purchase price of £212,000 was paid last year.

Code of conduct rules for MLAs and MPs require them to make declarations of property ownership details, apart from their own residences.

Responding to a Belfast Telegraph query, a DUP spokesman stated: “This is Mr Robinson's daughter's home. She pays the full mortgage on the property referred to by the newspaper.

“Mr Robinson acted to guarantee the mortgage. As he never considered it to be his property and didn't pay the mortgage it was not registered, but if it requires registration it would cause no difficulty. He will check if it does, but it may not.”

The First Minister's current register of interest declarations list other properties including a dockside London apartment and a Florida holiday home, both jointly owned with his ex-MP wife Iris.

The DUP has reacted angrily to questions from this newspaper on the Dundonald property and other issues including planning-related lobbying by Mrs Robinson.

It claimed: “Belfast Telegraph Newspapers continues its despicable campaign against the First Minister. By lies, smears and innuendo it attempts to besmirch his name.

“Having wrongly predicted and promoted his fall from office the Telegraph slinks and creeps around every aspect of his life in its vain search to scrape up anything of substance.

“Having failed, and in utter desperation, it throws out any issue in the hope that by insinuation and implication it might achieve its objective. The newspaper has abused its privileged position. Many people are asking why this newspaper has not carried out the same scrutiny of public figures in other political parties.”

The Democratic Unionist Party’s allegations against this newspaper are firmly denied.

Defending the practice of lobbying on planning applications, the DUP statement said: “The implication that there is something unusual or improper for an elected representative to support planning applications is ridiculously absurd.

“It's part of their job. Doing so is the duty of an elected representative who wants to see improvement to his/her constituency or who is asked to do so as a constituency representative.

“If this is a fault then hundreds of elected representatives from all parties will need to ask for thousands of similar cases to be taken into consideration.”

Among the developers Mrs Robinson lobbied for in the past was builder Ken Campbell.

She subsequently obtained £25,000 from him in 2008, to help bankroll the riverside café business of her teenage lover Kirk McCambley.

Watchdog stands ground in publication row

A leading UK watchdog body is standing its ground in a bust-up with First Minister Peter Robinson.

The chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life Sir Christopher Kelly came in for criticism from the DUP leader last week.

The row involved Sir Christopher's call for the publication of a Government-commissioned legal opinion on Mr Robinson and the Ministerial Code.

This report — by a Stormont-appointed QC — found the First Minister had not been obliged to report his wife for failing to declare receipt of £50,000 from developers.

Mr Robinson has cited “legal impediments” for the non-publication of the document, and said he wants it made “available in as complete and as transparent a way as possible”.

He claimed Sir Christopher had been “unwise to say the least to be drawn into issues of which he is unfamiliar”.

A spokesperson for the Committee on Standards stood by Sir Christopher's comments, saying:

“Our position that such documents should be published is not new. It was contained in a Committee report in 2003.”

Stormont still has no established procedure for dealing with code-related complaints against ministers.

That meant a special one-off arrangement involving the QC had to be put in place for Mr Robinson's case.

In its 2003 report, the Committee on Standards said such ad hoc approaches are not satisfactory.

“While those chosen to investigate allegations against ministers have been people of probity and eminence, we consider it doubtful that they were perceived to be independent and, as a result, we doubt that the outcome of their inquiries has invariably commanded public confidence,” it added.

The Committee also said “two or three individuals of senior standing” should be made available to examine code issues, and reports from cases “should be published”.

SDLP MLA John Dallat has now challenged Mr Robinson, saying: “The Committee on Standards in Public Life has not just a right but a duty to speak out on issues of public interest.”

But a DUP spokesman said: “We believe that Sir Christopher was unwise to allow himself to be used by the smear brigade in the media into making comments without knowing what the legal issues were that had caused lawyers in the Department Solicitors' Office to advise non-publication.”

The Committee on Standards carried out last year's official investigation into MP expenses.

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