Paisley Jnr steps down as junior minister

IAN Paisley Junior is resigning as junior minister in the Stormont Executive.

His resignation comes after News Letter investigations into how the North Antrim MLA and his father First Minister Ian Paisley are claiming large amounts of rent expenses at the Assembly, to fund their consituency office in Ballymena.

It is understood Mr Paisley Junior was asked to resign by party colleagues at a meeting of the DUP Assembly Group this morning, in the wake of the story - which follows months of negative publicity surrounding his lobbying tactics as an MLA.

In a resignation ststament he has reffered to these stories in the media.

Colleague Gregory Campbell said "I am not surprised".

Senior party figures discussed Mr Paisley Junior's position during a trip to Portugal at the weekend, as the story about the Ballymena office broke - and in particular the MLA confirmed the property is owned by his father-in-law Jim Curry.

This means he and Ian Paisley Senior are claiming Assembly allowances to effectively pay the mortgage in the name of a company called Sarcon (No. 250) Limited, which is owned by Mr Curry.

At this time, it does not appear there is anything technically illegal or improper.

But the First Minister and his son are facing calls for an investigation into their use of taxpayers' money.

Saturday's News Letter revealed that they are making hefty Assembly expenses claims for the premises in Ballymena - and that developer Seymour Sweeney had a role in the purchase of the building.

Then it emerged that the Stormont allowance goes to Sarcon and Jim Curry.

Facing fresh criticism, Mr Paisley Jr defended his position, insisiting that the office arrangement was legitimate and above board.

But last night, Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said these were "very serious developments".

"If the News Letter's revelations are true, then I believe it warrants a full investigation by the Assembly authorities into Ian Paisley Jnr's conduct," he said.

"And there are serious questions here for Ian Paisley senior to answer, as he was claiming half this amount."

Assembly figures state the Paisleys, together, will pay 62,500 annually in rent for 9-11 Church Street, Ballymena, home to their constituency office.

But Mr Paisley Jnr believes this has been miscalculated and the yearly sum will be closer to 56,000. He wants the tally corrected.

He said that to date they have paid 42,000, since July last year.

This, however, is still much higher than the next recipient, MLA Nigel Dodds, who rents two offices.

Mr Paisley Jn said he had taken the utmost care in ensuring he and his father were not breaching any laws, he noted, and Mr Curry "gets not a penny piece".

The rent goes straight to the Bank of Ireland with whom a mortgage was secured, in the name of the company Sarcon (No. 250) Limited to buy the property, he said.

Mr Paisley Jnr has accepted he was "the mover and shaker" in the purchase of the property.

It is understood, the Paisleys are not the only MLAs to rent property from a family member. But the details of other people's affairs are not yet known.

Mr Paisley said: "I have absolutely done this correctly. I did not want to buy the property myself and rent to myself and put my father in an awkward position of renting from me.

"My understanding is that I could have bought it or put it in my wife's name and she could have charged me. I did not do that."

On Saturday the News Letter reported that the Land Registry showed the Ballymena office was owned by a company known as Sarcon (No. 250) Limited.

Further checks with Companies House revealed the sole director of Sarcon 250 to be Mr Sweeney.

However, Mr Paisley said Mr Sweeney resigned his position as director before an rental agreement began and Mr Curry took over.

Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Sweeney stressed his role in the Sarcon 250 affair has not breached any laws and followed normal business practice.

Last night Sir Reg Empey said Mr Paisley Jnr's dealings – even though he has never been found to have done anything improper - are having a negative impact far beyond his party: MLAs were "stunned" at the level of the Paisley's rent claims, he added.

"I claim 12,000 for office rent and many members claim less," he said.

Ian Paisley jr has not declared the family link to his constituency office in the Assembly's Register of Members' Interests which he updated last September.