Friday, January 18, 2008

Paisley’s little list

Given the thoroughly corrupt character of the political settlement in the north the exposure of the sordid dealings that accompanied its inception at the St Andrews talks should not come as a surprise. Some of these have now been revealed in a ministerial letter released under the Freedom of Information Act.

This letter was a response by one of direct rule ministers at the time to a “shopping list” of demands from the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr. The demands raised by Paisley were pure pork barrel politics - all related to commercial activities with his own north Antrim constituency. They included planning approval for a "resort spa" including "200 homes"; a request for "private sector land to be included in development" of the new visitors centre at the Giant's Causeway; and a suggestion that a judicial review of lands in Ballee be dropped. The letter concluded with an assurance that Tony Blair’s government would "try to respond positively" to the requests, that the letter itself should be regarded as a “statement of intent". The clear inference of such correspondence is that the restoration of devolution would be eased by a favourable response.

Ian Paisley Jnr claimed that that these dealings were on the “margins” of the talks and that he was merely taking the opportunity to raise issues pertinent to his constituents. However, when his “shopping list” is examined it is clear that its items relate to one constituent in particular. Two of the projects listed are linked to the millionaire developer and DUP member Seymour Sweeney.

The judicial review of the sale of land in Ballee related to a dispute between the Department of Social Development over how much landowners would have to pay for the return of land that had been vested in the 1970s. The legal action taken by landowners, which was subsequently the subject of a review, was backed by Sweeney. At the time Paisley was lobbying for the review to be halted Sweeney and his associates were offering just £9m for the land. The court battle was eventually settled in June 2007 when a £50m price was agreed. For a party that supposedly supports law and order (with Paisley Jnr as its justice spokesperson) the DUP was very relaxed about such an overtly political intervention in the judicial process.

The case of the Causeway visitors centre is better known, with the attempts by the DUP to scupper the long standing commitment to a publicly owned centre in favour of a private development owned by Sweeney. The subsequent decisions by DUP ministers on the Causeway are consistent with the demands made by the Paisleys’ in their lobbying of British ministers. What these cases have in common is that despite the rhetoric about benefitting the constituency, all the benefit accrues to Sweeney. In both cases the public loses out.

Despite the allegations of sleaze and corruption building up around the DUP, Paisley’s Jnr in particular, there is very little criticism from other parties. Obscure backbnmcnhers are allowed to make minor criticisms. But without backing from the party leadership their opposition is merely tokenistic. When asked to comment on the Paisley shopping list, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams made some pious statement about his party not being interested in side deals but the common good. This is nonsense. Sinn Fein have made numerous side deals with the British. Most of these have either collapsed, such as the On the Run legislation, or been reneged upon, as in a case of the devolution of policing and justice powers. The difference with the DUP’s side deals is that are actually delivered upon. Four of the six demands on Paisley’s wish list have been granted!

Given the lack of real opposition, scandals such this are unlikely to destabilise the settlement. However, they do serve a useful purpose as they erode the illusions that workers may have in the Assembly. Such a process is as essential element of building a new opposition movement.


blender said...

my worry is that so much of the deal rests on DUP corruption. Not all the bigots are personally corrupt, so you end up with a lot of pressure to the right of the Paisleys ( if you can imaginge such a thing, a bit like the old joke of being to the right of Ghengis Khan)

Rankin said...

Paisley's pulling the stroke all parliamentarians pull and getting out before his "legacy" becomes too tarnished by allegations of personnal corruption. But even if the DUP/SF do become thoroughly discredited do you not think they will take the fall to protect the institutions leaving the "clean" UUP/SDLP to attempt to rejuvenate them? Could Stormont not safely move to the "left" as well as the right and still survive?

blender said...

I don't think so. leaving aside your use of the word 'left' even as a relative term. If that were to happen the agreement would be building a centre ground and gradually weakening sectarianism. The SD analysis seems to be saying that the agreement increases sectarainism, and that seems to be the case on the ground.

Hoopy said...

I think the article might actually underestimate the potential damage to the whole peace processed deal.

the shenanigans at the St. Andrews negotiations not only gave a showing up to Ian Og and the Paisleys it also damages the Developers' Unionist Party (DUP) - or should that be Developer singular.

It taints the St Andrews negotiations and by extension the St Andrews Agreement itself on which the current Assembly and Executive are supposed to rest.

The machinations of junior are also serious, although the British government can no doubt evade any problems over their complete disregard for all lawful procedures and institutions, junior may not find it so easy. In the case of the Ballee case at least junior's action is so egregious it might (or should) involve criminal investigation.

Junior cannot be very popular with anyone right now, even in his own party where his Da might not be around much longer to protect him.( is this why he's sucking up to the next leader Peter?)

Irrespective of his future the whole deal relies to a great extent on no opposition because absolutely everyone (or almost everyone) is 'inside the tent'. If one of the parties, especially the biggest, becomes so damaged that it has to be excluded this holy principle falls and this both weakens the whole agreement and legitimises opposition.

Another thing is also clear - an opposition from either the DUP or Sinn Fein, who have also lost some credibility with their three monkeys impersonation during all this, can only increase sectarianism. The internal contradictions of the whole rotten deal could bring it all down despite the best intentions of all the participants.