The News Letter in Belfast helped prompt the resignation of one of Northern Ireland’s highest-profile politicians this week.
It broke the news that First Minister Ian Paisley and his son, junior minister Ian Paisley, claimed some £62,000 of public money from the Irish Assembly to pay for their joint constituency office. Paisley Jnr resigned after the news broke, but denies any wrongdoing.
Democratic Unionist Party minister Nigel Dodd’s rental claim for office space was the next most expensive claim – at £20,000 for two offices.
The News Letter found that the Paisleys’ office in Ballymena was owned by a company called Sarcon 250, whose sole director, it emerged, was Paisley Jnr’s father-in-law Jim Curry.
Developer Seymour Sweeney, whose relationship with the Paisleys has come under intense scrutiny in the past after they lobbied for him to build the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre, was also formerly involved with the purchase of the building.
After news broke of the pair renting the office space, the junior minister resigned, but he denied any wrongdoing claiming that the amount of rent was £56,000 and was based on market values at the height of the property boom. The most recent rental valuation of the office, according to the News Letter, is £16,400.
Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said these were ‘very serious developments”.
‘If the News Letter’s revelations are true, then it warrants a full investigation by the Assembly authorities into Ian Paisley Jnr’s conduct.”
News Letter political editor Stephen Dempster said: ‘Ian Paisley’s resignation came at the end of six months of negative press around his relationship with the developer Seymour Sweeney – a member of the Democratic Unionist Party. Several local journalists had a hand in scrutinising this.
‘Last week I was tipped off about the high level of expenses the Paisleys are claiming in rent for a joint constituency office they run. It begged the question: Who are they paying this rent to?
‘Myself and colleague Sam McBride did a lot of investigation and trawling of documents to establish that it was a company called Sarcon 250 which owned the building, and the director was listed as Mr Sweeney.
‘It’s rewarding that a lot of hard work and proper investigative journalism came to fruition. Ian Paisley Junior had not done anything illegal, but ethically and morally people are not happy that he has been taking public money and paying it into what we then discovered has become his father-in-law’s firm.’