How our News Letter story led to Ian Paisley's resignation

On Monday, 18 February, Ian Paisley junior quit as junior minister in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland.

He resigned after six months of unrelenting negative press following his relationship with north Antrim developer Seymour Sweeney, and other issues.

However, it was stories in the News Letter about his expenses claims for rent on an office, how a mortgage on the office building was obtained (with the help of Sweeney), and the revelation that the sole director of the company which has the mortgage is now Paisley’s father-in-law, that proved the final straw.

It was early on Thursday, 14 February that a very reliable source called to say that an unpublished list of Assembly members’ expenses revealed that Paisley junior and his father, DUP First Minister Ian Paisley, were paying huge amounts of rent on their joint constituency office in Ballymena.

The figure was so far in excess of what fellow Members of the Legislative Assembly were paying, it begged the question: Who are they paying rent to?

Other sources confirmed the story but searches in Land Registry on the property were initially fruitless.

Then another contact suggested re-defining the trawl and accompanying it with a visit to Companies House.

We were told that Sweeney was involved in buying the property, but in Friday morning’s paper could only report the expenses claims.

Land Registry revealed a company called Sarcon (No 250) owned the Ballymena office. Companies House established a Mr Seymour Sweeney was listed as sole director.

With these documents, and other information gathered, there was enough to put to Paisley – who most-notably lobbied for Sweeney to be awarded the contract for the building of a new visitors’ centre at Giants Causeway (a contract worth millions).

Eventually the MLA confirmed what we knew and informed the News Letter that Sweeney was no longer Sarcon director, and that a Mr Jim Currie was now director. Sweeney was identified as Paisley’s father-in-law (but it was just too late to nail it down for Saturday morning’s edition).

Only one other rival had got a whiff of the story. Belfast Telegraph reporter David Gordon was on the case but not with the same detail, and his paper chose to publish their story inside. The News Letter went front page.

In short, Paisley, with Sweeney’s help, set up a company to buy a building, dodging certain taxes and agreeing that his father-in-law would take over the company, and the rent would be paid with his and his father’s MLA allowances.

It was established the MLA had not breached any laws.But ethically he was under pressure to resign, and when the Monday edition of the News Letter told the full story, Paisley had to go.

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