Thursday, February 21, 2008

FOI claims a ministerial scalp

FOI requests by the Belfast Telegraph newspaper have played a key role in the first ministerial resignation from the Northern Ireland devolved government. Ian Paisley Jnr resigned on Monday after months of controversy over his lobbying for wealthy developer Seymour Sweeney.

The paper's Investigations Correspondent, David Gordon, explained the role FOI played:
Even the latest revelations, concerning constituency office rental expenses, had their roots in an FOI request by the Belfast Telegraph. The Assembly was last week finalising an official response to this FOI query, which involved rent claims by each MLA.

Draft details were circulated to members for a final check ahead of the official release...

Eyebrows were raised at the figures for the two Paisleys - almost three times the next highest total. It is understood DUP figures made their own inquiries and discovered a Seymour Sweeney connection.

FOI has played a key role throughout the Sweeney links controversy.

MEP Jim Allister landed a major blow last month with the disclosure from the Northern Ireland Office on lobbying at the 2006 St Andrews talks.

Two of the six items on the Paisley Jnr shopping list considered by Tony Blair were linked to Mr Sweeney.

An FOI disclosure to this newspaper late last year also exposed the full extent of the MLA's lobbying on the Giant's Causeway visitor debate.

Then there was that 2003 letter to the Heritage Lottery Fund protesting about a grant refusal for the Sweeney Causeway scheme.

Written in Ian Paisley Snr's name, but apparently signed by his son, it wrongly claimed that the developer had secured the approval of world heritage body Unesco.

This letter was made public through a Belfast Telegraph FOI request. Ian Paisley Snr angrily attacked the use of the Act by "lazy journalists" .

His thoughts on the legislation are unlikely to have mellowed since then.
See 'Role of FOI legislation in Minister's downfall' and 'Latest link to Sweeney too much for DUP'

No comments: