The DUP’s shameful treatment of Jim Wells

The hesitance within the DUP to confirm Jim Wells as the candidate for South Down is somewhat of a strange decision. 

I have never had a conversation with Mr Wells, besides our tussle during the DFP committee Nama hearing, however I felt he was terribly treated not only by elements of the media but also by the party he gave his life to following the witch hunt against him by a crazed left wing mob! 

Mr Wells had his career almost ruined and had intense pressure heaped upon himself and his family after an edited video appeared online accusing him of making offensive remarks. The video and the alleged comments during a canvass thereafter were grossly and purposefully misinterpreted in order to feed an aggressive campaign being waged against him. 

What is surely more disappointing for Jim Wells however is the treatment he received at the hands of his own party. Mr Wells was the strongest defender of Mr Robinson during the Nama inquiry, I suspect somewhat reluctantly, and this was even after the former DUP leader had effectively forced the DUP veteran into resigning. 

The least Jim Wells should have received was the courtesy of the party officers strongly supporting his candidacy in South Down and announcing it early on. Yet he has been made to wait and left in the dark. 

This shines a light into how the DUP has turned from the ‘family party’ into a ruthless political machine that has little by little cast aside the stalwarts of the ‘old days’ and replaced them with fresh faces, many from the old enemy, the UUP. 

Despite the differences I had with Mr Wells at the Nama inquiry, I respected his undivided loyalty to Peter Robinson, his old friend and party leader. Mr Robinson showed no such loyalty to Jim Wells or for that matter Sammy Wilson. Hardly surprising given how Robinson and his side-kick, Timothy Johnston- who slithers around in the background scheming and ‘fixing’ within the party- ousted the founding father of the DUP, the late Rev Ian Paisley. 

It matters little to me whether the DUP party officers nominate Jim Wells or not, but the whole episode does highlight how the ‘family party’ has changed, for the worse some may argue. 

If the DUP cast aside one of their own in South Down, then I would love to see Jim Wells running as an independent against the new fresh face that they put in his place. 

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Concerns as Access NI PSNI/MI5 ‘intelligence’ being used to blackmail local cross-community football coach 

There are serious concerns around the regulation of the PSNI input into Access NI checks following revelations of attempts to recruit a loyalist community activist as an informant, issuing threat of “ensuring you never coach children’s football again if you do not work for us” as a caveat. 

A loyalist community activist has spoken of his horror at a PSNI ‘sensitive intelligence’ assessment attached to his Access NI check. The individual- who did not want to be named due to fears for his own safety- said “I have been involved in coaching a cross community children’s football team in the East Belfast area for some time. I had hoped to extend this work into attaining coaching qualifications and getting some work coaching in local schools, but I have been shocked to learn that the PSNI have released so called ‘intelligence’ as part of my access NI check, which has precluded me from any work in local schools.” 

Prior to the well respected local football coach applying for an access NI certificate, he had undertaken voluntary community work with the Exit community project which had brought him into contact with former loyalist prisoners and ex combatants. During this period the 28 year old was approached by the PSNI and asked to become a confidential Police informant. 
Upon refusing to engage with the plain clothes officers, the man was warned that he would never be allowed to coach children again. The officers then chillingly warned “we can, and will, destroy your life.” The encounter was reported and logged with a local Solictor. 

There have been recent revelations of MI5 intelligence being included in Access NI checks. The Irish News reported in November that former Sinn Fein member- who have left the party over their support for policing- Sean Montgomery had lost employment opportunities over unsupported intelligence included within the Access NI checks. Mr Montgomery had no terrorist convictions. 

http://www.irishnews.com/news/2015/11/30/news/employment-checks-now-including-mi5-intelligence–337618/

It appears that both loyalists and republicans who are not perceived to be ‘on message’ or who refuse to allow themselves to be recruited as paid informants are having their employment opportunities scuppered by unscrupulous fanciful ‘intelligence’ assessments being included in police checks that potential employers would ask to see. 

There is much concern within the loyalist community that once again there is a two-tier approach to dealing with these matters, whereby those who are viewed as being cheerleaders for the peace process sail through such checks, but anyone viewed as a political obstacle has unsupported intelligence attached to their Access NI checks. 

If the PSNI hold evidence of criminal wrongdoing then they can arrest and charge any individual. The absence of any such charges makes it difficult to see how the PSNI can justify including unsupported intelligence within Access NI checks, intelligence that conveniently appears only for those who aren’t singing of the right political hymn sheet. 

NIHE whistleblower alleges corruption in the awarding of Tughans contract 

A NIHE whistleblower has alleged that inappropriate influences being exerted on NIHE contracting processes led to Tughans receiving a number of lucrative contracts. 

Frank Cushnahan- of Nama fame- was a former NIHE Audit committee member prior to leaving that post in order to take up position with Red Sky. 

Red Sky became embroiled in controversy following the revelations of former DUP Councillor Jenny Palmer. Red Sky had benefited from remarkable sweetheart deals from the NIHE and in one astonishing example, when Frank Cushnahan negotiated with the NIHE on behalf of Red Sky, the now defunct company got a debt reduced from £250,000 down to £20,000. 

A Northern Ireland Public Accounts Committee report in 2012 described Cushnahan’s role in the negotiations as “totally unethical”. 

This report led to the resignation of Brian Rowntree. Mr Rowntree was at this time a member of the Nama NI Advisory committee alongside Frank Cushnahan since their appointment in 2010. 

There were huge questions around a number of NIHE land deals, most notably the Millmount site where a £500,000 SPED scheme purchase led to a £60 million property developer profit. 

Gareth Robinson was a lobbyist for firms linked to the Millmount site and the former DUP Finance Minister, Mr Sammy Wilson, was keen to raise the issue with Nama. The former DUP leaders son was also carrying out lobbying for Tughans when they received lucrative NIHE contracts and he worked closely with Nama bagman, Ian Coulter. 

Property developer Paddy Kearney is now set to benefit from a purchase of the Millmount site. Peter Robinson wrote to Nama on behalf of Paddy Kearney. Kearney subsequently had over £300m of debt written off in a sweetheart deal with Cerberus.

The NIHE source described the organisation as “corrupted” and claimed that “the influence of Frank Cushnahan secured many lucrative deals for a particular circle of political and business associates.” 

The NIHE whistleblower claims that “external influences” led to the awarding of lucrative contracts to Tughans. The legal firm were appointed on 01 November 2011 to the NIHE Ejectment Solictors panel and in 2012 to the NIHE Public Liability Solictors panel. 

During the period of these appointments Frank Cushnahan, who had a remarkable influence with NIHE- as shown by the Red Sky scandal- was working out of an office in Tughans. 

The DUP were also ultimately responsible for the NIHE via the Social Development minister Nelson McCausland. 

Tughans were handsomely paid for their work on behalf of NIHE. A source within the Executive said “Tughans were the NIHE’s solicitor of choice for acting on their behalf when it came to taking tenants to court for falling behind on their rent.”

Explaining the lucrative payments the individual further explained “Their fee for doing so is £400 which is then passed onto the already in-debt tenant, who is clearly under pressure in the first place. People have became potentially homeless over this fee. It is a ridiculous amount of money for a two-minute court appearance, especially when they are doing a huge amount of them in a single sitting. It is purely an administrative process as the tenants very rarely turn up to them as there is very little they can do.” 

There are huge questions for the NIHE over the influences exerted in order to secure Tughans such a lucrative contract. 

There is, of course, much more to come in relation to Millmount. The scam was kick-started by an alleged “threat” that enabled the NIHE to purchase and then release the property for a knock-down price under the SPED scheme. One of the many key questions is who issued the threat? 

A remarkable paper trial exists that shows the individual who bought the property from NIHE as a SPED purchase was actually a business partner of the same individual who sold it to the NIHE- for a profit- because he was allegedly “under threat”. 

Robinson, Cushnahan & Tughans involvement in Glentoran bail-out! 

An FOI request to OFMDFM still remains unanswered months after its original submission. 

I requested information on whether there were any declarations of interest around Peter Robinson’s business relationships with Frank Cushnahan. 

This request was in light of the fact that Frank Cushnahan was heavily involved in Peter Robinson’s “white knight” deal that cleared Glentoran’s tax bill via a mystery donor in January 2011. 

At the time the Sunday World reported that the donor was comedian Frank Carson. This was a classic error. It appears that upon hearing of the involvement of a Frank C, the Sunday World put two and two together and got six. The real Frank C was none other that Frank Cushnahan. 

At the time of this deal Cushnahan had already been put forward by the DUP onto Nama NI Advisory board, and was in the midst of contriving with others in one of the biggest political and business corruption scandals ever to hit Northern Ireland or the Republic. 

As part of the deal Peter Robinson instructed Glentoran they would have to change solicitors and employ Tughans. 

Whilst appearing to the public as a saviour, Robinson was in reality cynically strong-arming Glentoran. As the famous clubs only hope, Glentoran had no choice but to accede to Robinson’s pre-conditions. 

A simple check of the companies house register will show that it was only a few short months prior to the deal becoming public in January 2011 that Tughans replaced the previous firm who had for many years been acting on behalf of Glentoran. Gareth Robinson was at this time undertaking lobbying work for Tughans and working closely with the Nama bagman, Ian Coulter. 

As part of the deal Tughans received a payment in the region of £50,000 for handling the payment of the donation from the mystery businessman. This was an extraordinarily large payment for such a simple piece of work. 

Rather than helping pump money back into Glentoran, Peter Robinson was ensuring that his business cronies received a rather large slice of the pie. 
But the key question is this, what was the motivation? Why did Peter Robinson’s “white knight” demand seats on the Glentoran board? 

Why would someone so keen to help the club with a ‘donation’ not simply make a donation, why the pre-condition that Tughans had to be the legal firm involved? 

The answer lies in a proposed ground move for Glentoran and the potential for a lucrative land deal. Wouldn’t it be alarming if the individual who actually put the money up was one of those property developers who was also set to benefit out of the Nama deal. 

But first of all, the Glentoran football club supporters deserve an explanation as to why Peter Robinson stipulated that the club would have to employ Tughans- and pay them a huge amount of money- to facilitate a bail-out deal that was supposed to be in the best interests of the club. 

Why there should be no dual civic reception for the NI & ROI football teams

Thanks to the SDLP political stunt in Belfast City Council, a divisive debate has now erupted around a proposal to invite the Republic of Ireland national football team to a joint civic reception with the national team of Northern Ireland. 

This proposal once again demonstrates the flaws within the ambiguous Belfast Agreement. 

To Nationalists the agreement reads that Irishness has parity with Britishness and those who wish to identify as Irish then take from this that the National flag of the Republic of Ireland, the National football team and other symbols or bodies have a parity with the sovereign flag of the United Kingdom or the National football team of Nothern Ireland, among other things. 

This is simply not the case. The Belfast Agreement enshrines the right of Nationalists to identify with the symbols of Irishness and to hold a political aspiration for a United Ireland- nowhere does it read that his aspiration translates into altering the sovereign constitutional position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. 

The Belfast Agreement guarantees and protects the right of Nationalists to self identify as Irish and to identify with the symbols or culture that represents that political ideology. 

Whilst this ensures that Nationalists within Northern Ireland can hold an Irish passport, claim allegiance to the Irish flag or support the ROI national team or sportspersons, it does not give any legal parity to this political aspiration in relation to the sovereign symbols or constitutional position of Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK for as long as the majority of people wish for it to do so. That is the principle of consent. 

This debate demonstrates the fundamental flaw with the Belfast Agreement, Nationalists read it one way and Unionists read it another. It is wedded together with enough constructive ambiguity to mean all things to all people. 

Nationalists have attempted to harness the constructive ambiguity in relation to the right to identify as Irish, and to have this right treated with equality, and fuse it with the entirely different principle of  sovereignty and the fact that the principle of consent ensures that Northern Ireland currently remains part of the United Kingdom. 

By fusing the two issues Nationalists seek to chip at the sovereign symbols of Britishness within Northern Ireland under the guise of ‘equality’ for the Irish identity. 

The legal protections for Nationalists right to self-identify as Irish and to hold their chosen political aspiration should not be misinterpreted as a legal right to demand that the sovereign symbols of Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, should be viewed as equal with the symbols of those who chose to hold a political aspiration to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom. 

Legal protection for ones identity and political aspirations does not translate into a legal right to have this aspiration realised. The only legal way to alter the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is via the principle of consent. 

The Northern Ireland football team is the only National team within this jurisdiction. And whilst those who identify as Irish have a legally protected right to say they identify with the Republic of Ireland team and to aspire for an all Ireland, this does not change the fact that Northern Ireland is a sovereign part of the United Kingdom therefore the national team of this country has primacy. 

If Belfast City Council wish to recognise the achievements of the Republic of Ireland, due to the fact that many people claim allegiance to that team, then they should invite the Republic of Ireland to a seperate event to recognise the achievements of a team from a foreign jurdiscition.

To bring both teams together is another attempt to use sport to force forward the all-Ireland political agenda and create some illusion that both teams have equal standing in relation to the international constitutional position of this country. They do not. 

The SDLP and Sinn Fein, supported by the Alliance party, are intent on continuing to use cheap political stunts as part of their ongoing attempt to fuse equality for identity and political aspirations to demanding parity in terms of sovereign symbols. It is all part of the wider cultural war, which was spawned from the ambiguity of the shameful Belfast Agreement.