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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Paisleys "should now resign"

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

The DUP leader and his son Ian Paisley Junior are embroiled in more controversy over their links Seymour Sweeney, a property developer.

The story breaks as DUP MPs meet on the fringes of a European parliamentary gathering in Portugal to discuss the future of the party in the wake of a council by-election defeat. "The leadership issue is on the agenda" a party source said.

Last night Ian Paisley Junior said that he and his father had paid around £42,000 for seven months rent of their constituency office in Ballymena. The premises are owned by a company set up by Sweeney and the rent is high by local standards. Sweeney also built one of Paisley Junior's homes near Bushmills.

Both properties have, according to Paisley, been the subject of misleading records of ownership. Companies Registry in Belfast shows the Paisley's constituency office, at 9-11 Church Street Ballymena, as owned by a company called Sarcon 250 which was set up by Seymour Sweeney.

Land Registry records that on 31 July last year Sweeney raised a debenture mortgage against the property from the Bank of Ireland.

According to Ian Paisley Junior Sweeney resigned as director that day and was replaced by James Curry, Paisley's father in law. Like Sweeney Curry is a DUP member. However this change is not recorded at Companies House which has no record of Sweeney resigning.

"We only took possession of this office in August" Paisley said.

"Sweeney was there for about eight weeks before that. He gave advice on how we could secure the property because we were about to lose it and we hadn't sold our [previous] Hill Street property at that point. Basically he was able to secure a loan from the bank on the basis that it would secured by the company and that once it was secured he would reverse out and allow another director to take over."

Paisley says the changeover from Sweeney to Curry took place "simultaneously" with the signing of the loan documents from the Bank of Ireland.

He added "James (Curry) is a member of the DUP and then there are a number of trustees who include the chairman of my branch who are like an oversight of the management. It is owned by Sarcon which is controlled by James Curry and a small group of trustees."

Paisley says that he and his father are paying Sarcon £42 k in rent for the period from the beginning of August 2007 to the end of March this year. This would equate to an annual rent of £72 which is extremely high by local standards.

Lyle Cubbitt, a recently retired solicitor who has resigned from he DUP and sits, on Ballymena Council as an independent believes that the £42k figure volunteered by Paisley is poor value. "I could have got them similar property nearby for about £16k a year" he said.

"That is nearer the figure I obtained under the FoI legislation. I will be asking for an explanation of why they gave me these figures if they were not correct. I really do think that both Paisley's should now resign" said Cubbitt who stood unsuccessfully against Ian Paisley Junior in the assembly elections.

The confusion over the Ballymena offices comes on top of a similar dispute over Ballyaltagh Cottages near Bushmills, a row of houses which he helped Sweeney obtain planning permission to build. Both James Curry and Paisley and his wife Fiona now occupy properties in Ballyaltagh cottages.

Paisley stresses that he paid full market value for his house but it remained registered in the name of Sweeney's wife Carol long after he moved in. The Paisley's, who raised a mortgage against the property, dismissed the discrepancy as an "administrative hiccough".

According to Lands Registry an application to transfer title was received in October 2007, after Paisley had been living in the house for three years. At the time Lands registry stressed that legal ownership cannot be transferred without its agreement.

Paisley Jnr has faced criticism over his lobbying in support of Sweeney on issues including a Government land sale at Ballee, Ballymena and plans for a Giant's Causeway visitor centre development which have now been rejected.

The controversy was heightened by the fact that Paisley replied " I know of him" last September when asked if he was supporting the property tycoon.

February 20, 2008

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on February 17, 2008.