Sleaze row forces son of Ian Paisley to quit as junior minister

IAN Paisley jnr, the son of Northern Ireland's First Minister, yesterday resigned from his post as a junior minister.

He quit after pressure following claims about his lobbying and developer links.

"With a certain degree of sadness I have informed the First Minister (Ian Paisley snr] of my intention to resign from ministerial office," he said.

"I can't express strongly enough that I am not going because of some hidden or some revealed wrongdoing."

Mr Paisley, a DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLA), will stay in his ministerial post until a replacement has been found. He will also continue in his role as an MLA for North Antrim.

Mr Paisley's resignation will come as a bitter blow to his father. He had been by his father's side in the assembly chamber and many public events since devolution returned.

However, his departure is also likely to fuel speculation about how long the Rev Ian Paisley will remain in front-line politics and at the head of a power-sharing government alongside Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

Earlier this month, a Stormont ombudsman's investigation ruled that there was no evidence to suggest Mr Paisley had broken assembly rules.

However, taking no questions as he announced his resignation at Stormont Castle,

he acknowledged that a series of stories about his lobbying on behalf of Seymour Sweeney, a North Antrim businessman, had taken their toll. Mr Sweeney was behind a failed attempt to build a privately-run visitors' centre at Northern Ireland's top tourist attraction, the Giant's Causeway.

"The past ten months have not been without controversy," Mr Paisley said. "Personal criticism, unfounded allegations, innuendo and attacks on me personally, followed by ombudsman's reports that have cleared me – this relentless period of criticism by those who have decided on this path has been unceasing.

"The criticism has been a distraction and has got in the way of the activities of this government and, importantly, it has gotten in the way of the activities of my political party."

Daithi McKay, Sinn Fein MLA, said: "This is certainly not the end of it for Ian Paisley jnr. There are still a number of questions that he needs to answer in relation to the Giant's Causeway and other developments."

David Ford, the leader of the Alliance Party, also said there were unanswered questions. "Ian Paisley jnr's behaviour has severely damaged the credibility of the executive. However, the questions being asked relate to his behaviour as an MLA. This would suggest he must resign as a MLA too."

Declan O'Loan, a Nationalist SDLP member of the assembly, said the junior minister's resignation was inevitable. He also insisted it did not mean that the spotlight would be switched off on the DUP's links with Mr Sweeney. "It is clear that, within his party, the embarrassment has become too great and he had to go," the North Antrim MLA said. "The spotlight now switches on to Ian Paisley snr. I think the public will be saying one Paisley has gone, when is the other going to go?"

Mr Sweeney expressed his sadness at Mr Paisley's resignation. He said: "Ian Paisley jnr is an extremely diligent politician, who always works very hard both for his constituents and for projects he believes in.

"His unstinting commitment to North Antrim merits sincere gratitude from all the organisations and private individuals he has helped and supported which makes his decision to resign all the more regrettable.

"It is a very sad day for democracy and one can only hope that, given his considerable political dedication and expertise, that he will be encouraged to continue his valuable work as an MLA."