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Sleaze in Northern Ireland: Keeping it in the family
THE RESIGNATION of Ian Paisley junior as a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, follows months of intense speculation over the nature of his relationship with Seymour Sweeney, a millionaire property developer based in North Antrim.
Gary Mulcahy, Socialist Party Belfast
A Pandora's box was opened last September when DUP ministers revealed that they were 'minded' to give permission to a private developer to build a visitors' centre at the world heritage site, the Giant's Causeway, even though millions had already been spent on developing a publicly funded project.
Seymour Sweeney, the developer behind this prestigious bid, had the support of Ian Paisley junior who it now transpires has 'lobbied' on his behalf for many developments.
When quizzed about his relationship with Sweeney, Paisley junior initially replied he merely "knew of him". It then quickly emerged that not only was Sweeney a local member of the DUP but he was also a close associate of the Paisleys.
Paisley junior even used his position during the crucial peace process talks at St Andrew's in October 2006 to demand action on a list of commercial projects in his constituency linked to Sweeney. Tony Blair replied, in a letter released under the Freedom of Information act, that he would "look positively" at his requests.
The stench of sleaze has not only damaged Paisley junior, but also his father the First Minister. It has now emerged that the Paisleys are claiming £62,500 a year from public funds for rental costs of their constituency offices in Ballymena, which happen to be owned by a company called Sarcon 250.
And guess who happens to be the sole director of this company? None other than Seymour Sweeney, what a coincidence!
It is also now likely an official investigation will be carried out by the parliamentary standards commissioner into Ian Paisley senior for using part of his Westminster allowance to employ Ian junior as a 'researcher' on a salary of £9,000 to £11,000 a year, on top of the £62,000 he receives as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and junior minister.
The resignation of Paisley junior, to the clear delight of many senior DUP figures, has led to much speculation over the leadership of the party with some commentators stating Paisley senior could be removed as leader as early as May.
The sleaze scandals which have hit Westminster have now forced politicians in all the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly to reveal how they have used their positions to secure income for family members through jobs and rents for properties they own. One MLA has even claimed expenses for the cost of rent of a portable cabin on his own farm!
These revelations (at a time when it is being proposed that MLAs receive a 16% pay increase, while one in four children officially live in poverty), have reinforced a hatred amongst working-class people towards the politicians.
Despite the tensions between the sectarian parties in the Assembly, their neo-liberal budget has shown they are united in attacking working-class communities and supporting big business.
The need to build a socialist alternative which can unite workers and youth against the right-wing policies of the sectarian parties has never been greater.
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In The Socialist 27 February 2008:
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