FoI uncovers extent of Ian Paisley Jnr's lobbying

When the Democratic Unionist Party assembly member Ian Paisley Jnr stood down from his father's department last month, he became the first government minister in the UK to resign because of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). His resignation has since become part of a bigger story: it undoubtedly helped weaken Ian Paisley senior, who has now set his own departure date as First Minister.

FOI disclosures revealed the extent of lobbying by Mr Paisley Jnr in support of the Giants Causeway development scheme over a number of years. His father had been involved, too – protesting in writing to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2003 at a grant refusal for the developer and DUP member, Seymour Sweeney.

This letter, released last October under FOI, incorrectly claimed the Causeway project had the approval of Unesco itself. When the letter became public, the First Minister reacted with an outburst from the Assembly floor, attacking "wide ranging" FOI requests being "sent in by lazy journalists, who will not do any work". A complaint about his Heritage Lottery Fund letter was made to the Commons Standards Commissioner.

The "cronyism" row over Sweeney proved a headache for another DUP minister, who was poised to issue planning approval for the Causeway centre scheme. She maintained that she had been unaware that the Paisleys had been batting for the businessman. In the end, planning permission was refused.

By this time, it had been revealed – again through FOI requests – that Mr Paisley Jnr had also lobbied in support of a massive government land sale plan, involving Mr Sweeney.

Freedom Of Information: First major casualty of the 'right to know' legislation (The Independent, 7 March 2008)