Less than a year after resigning as First Minister, Peter Robinson is working for a property developer who until 2014 was once one of Nama’s biggest Ulster borrowers, the News Letter can reveal.
The former DUP leader, who has kept a low profile since leaving politics, is working – seemingly as a consultant – for property developer Paddy Kearney.
Mr Kearney’s property company, Kilmona, last night declined to comment on the arrangement which it has with the former DUP leader.
There is no suggestion that there is anything improper about the situation.
The News Letter understands that the veteran politician – who tonight will be guest of honour at the DUP’s annual conference dinner – has appeared for Kilmona at several meetings in relation to major developments.
In it understood that on Wednesday night Mr Robinson appeared unannounced about 15 minutes into a meeting of the Carrickfergus Regeneration Partnership which was discussing a proposed Kilmona planning application for lands behind the Loughshore Hotel, a prominent site on main road between Belfast and the east Antrim town.
It is believed that the developer is proposing a vast redevelopment, encompassing hundreds of homes, a health centre, major retail outlets and a spa.
The News Letter understands that when questions were raised about the proposals, on several occasions Mr Robinson answered on behalf of Kilmona.
The planning application, which is yet to be submitted, will have to ultimately either be ruled upon by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council or – because of its scale – go directly to Sinn Fein minister Chris Hazzard for a decision.
An employee from Belfast PR firm MCE Public Relations and former RUC officer Alan Mains were also present as part of the Kilmona delegation.
A source told the News Letter that the plan was likely to split local opinion, with some local people keen to see what is a former industrial site redeveloped, while others will be “concerned” at the impact which a development of that scale could have on the rest of the town.
DUP MLA David Hilditch, who was present at the meeting, said that Mr Robinson had been part of a “delegation” speaking on behalf of the developer. He said that most of the talking had been done by the architect, rather than by the former first minister.
Almost exactly a year ago, Mr Kearney appeared before Stormont’s finance committee, where he denied that he had a “cosy relationship” with Mr Robinson.
The businessman rejected as “unfounded” and “scurrilous” claims by loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson that Mr Robinson had been involved in setting up a “sweetheart deal” for Mr Kearney’s company over its Nama loans.
Mr Bryson had alleged that the then first minister had exerted undue influence to secure a favourable deal for Mr Kearney when he moved to refinance his Nama-controlled loans after they were bought by US vulture fund Cerberus.
But Mr Kearney said at the time: “I first approached Peter Robinson, the first minister, when it became clear that Nama’s intentions were to collapse my company, to seek any assistance he could give me in dealing with Nama.
“I found him to be a helpful, compassionate, understanding person who wrote to Nama on my behalf. In my view Peter Robinson has been unfairly criticised for doing what I believe to be was his job.”
In April, it emerged that Cerberus had written off £250 million worth of debt owed by Mr Kearney’s company – which had owed £314 million when it entered Nama in 2008 – and it has been making some significant investments. The company has plans for major developments across Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland.