Peter Robinson got involved in firm’s wind farm planning bid

Gaelectric's  �20m wind farm at Carn Hill , Newtownabbey
Gaelectric's �20m wind farm at Carn Hill , Newtownabbey

The managing director of renewable energy firm Gaelectric attended a DUP fundraising dinner in 2008 — six months before Peter Robinson forwarded a letter about a controversial planning application by the firm, the News Letter can reveal.

In 2009, the DUP leader contacted the then DUP planning minister on behalf of the company.

Gaelectric CEO Brendan McGrath (right) and Gaelectric CFO Barry Gavin (left) are pictured with Environment Minister,Alex Attwood,First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the opening of the Carn Hill windfarm in 2013

Gaelectric CEO Brendan McGrath (right) and Gaelectric CFO Barry Gavin (left) are pictured with Environment Minister,Alex Attwood,First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the opening of the Carn Hill windfarm in 2013

Last night the DUP said that many companies attend its dinners and there was nothing irregular in any of the contacts which it has had with the firm.

The details are contained in a planning file for the Carn Hill wind farm outside Carrickfergus.

When the News Letter first asked Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council to view the file several weeks ago, it could not be found. The council said that files had been transferred to it from the Department of the Environment (DoE) as part of the transfer of planning powers to councils and it could not be located.

However, an individual who viewed the file several years ago took copies of several key documents and passed them to the News Letter.

A letter from Gaelectric managing director Brendan McGrath to the then planning minister Sammy Wilson was not dated. However, it has been stamped to say that it was received on October 13 2008.

Mr McGrath wrote: “Dear Sammy, Thank you for the invitation to meet with you again and attend your fund raising dinner. 
I also appreciated the opportunity of meeting and speaking with the First Minister.”

Mr McGrath outlined what he said would be the benefits of the Carn Hill wind scheme and added: “Looking forward to your continued support.”

When asked if Gaelectric had financially contributed to the DUP on other occasions (unlike the rest of the UK, political donations in Northern Ireland remain secret), the DUP did not directly answer the question.

A DUP spokesman said: “Many different companies, community and voluntary organisations have attended DUP dinners. This would also be the case for nearly every other political party. If Gaelectric have purchased tickets for one of these then they have that in common with a large number of others.”

Five months after the dinner, in March 2009, Gaelectric directors Brendan McGrath, Mike Denny, Matthias Schalper and lobbyist Terry McErlean met with Peter Robinson and Gareth Robinson (who was then working for his father) “to discuss our wind energy projects currently awaiting planning decisions in Northern Ireland”.

A letter from Gaelectric’s managing director setting out details of the meeting was addressed to Mr Robinson’s constituency office, rather than his First Minister’s office in Stormont.

The company expressed “frustration” with the planning process but said it was “encouraged” by Mr Robinson’s pledge to “take immediate action to speed up the decision making process, to enable projects to come to fruition more rapidly”.

Referring to the economic benefits of the company’s projects, the firm added: “Gaelectric would like to thank you and your colleagues for your continued support in moving these developments forward.”

Mr Robinson forwarded that letter to Mr Wilson – who was responsible for planning. Writing on House of Commons notepaper as a constituency MP, Mr Robinson said to Mr Wilson: “Is this matter proceeding as they appear to have been waiting for a very long time for a positive outcome?”

Given that neither Gaelectric nor the wind farm are located in Mr Robinson’s East Belfast constituency, the News Letter asked the DUP why Mr Robinson had got involved in the planning application.

A DUP spokesman said: “Firms will often contact a party leader about issues across Northern Ireland.”

Documents released by the DoE under the Environmental Information Regulations show that by the time the project was complete in May 2013, Gareth Robinson was working on behalf of Gaelectric. He issued an invitation to the then DoE minister, Alex Attwood, to attend the wind farm launch event, alongside Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

A DUP spokesman said: “In 2009 Gareth was a full-time employee in Peter Robinson’s constituency office. He did not work in any capacity for Gaelectric. It would not be unusual for a member of staff to attend meetings with an elected representative.”

The News Letter asked Gaelectric how much it paid to attend the DUP fundraiser and whether it has made other donations to the party. The company declined to comment.

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