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Foster favoured private Causeway Centre before seeing Seaport application‏

14 November, 2007

North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay has revealed that Environment Minister Arlene Foster was in favour of the private application for a Visitors Centre at the Giant's Causeway BEFORE she received papers regarding Seaport's application and BEFORE she visited the site.

Mr McKay was speaking after receiving a copy of restricted minutes of a private meeting between Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster in June under a Freedom Of Information request.

Mr McKay said:

"It is now crystal clear that Minister Foster was 'minded' to approve the private sector application for a Visitors' Centre at least 3 months before she made a statement on the matter and before she had even seen papers regarding the application.

"At this meeting between Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster 'both Ministers agreed that private sector development of visitor facilities was more desirable and that agreement between the developer and local stakeholders, primarily Moyle Council and the National Trust would represent the ideal scenario'.

"The minutes go on to state that Minister Foster 'indicated her intention to receive papers and visit the site re the private sector application in the near future'. This clearly shows that the Minister of the Environment was in favour of approving the private sector application before she had the full facts in front of her. If nothing else, it calls into question her impartiality on this issue.

"It is quite clear that it was this meeting between Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds that sounded the death-knell for the public-sector proposals for a Visitors' Centre.

"The current process that she has embarked on, trying to forge an agreement between the private developer and local stakeholders, is one that she agreed with Nigel Dodds back in June and now involves the Chief Executive of Planning Service carrying out actions which he himself describes as being 'unusual'.

"The negotiations process that the Minister is trying to initiate between the private developer and third parties is not normal practice and must be halted. It is up to the private developer to sort out any issues that exist with Moyle Council and the National Trust regarding his application - not Planning Service - and by her actions Arlene Foster is bringing that department into further disrepute." ENDS

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