Peter Robinson in row over sale of land to Catholics

DUP elaborates on comments made by leader following Sinn Féin accusations

The DUP has elaborated on comments made by First Minister Peter Robinson in the Northern Assembly on Monday after Sinn Féin accused him of indicating it was “not okay to sell land to Catholics”.

The Sinn Fein criticism followed from a heated row between Mr Robinson and the Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister in the Assembly yesterday over the sale of land in Co Fermanagh.

Mr Allister accused Mr Robinson of issuing a “damnable lie” when the First Minister said in the chamber during question time on Monday that the TUV leader was the executor of a will in which land was sold to “republicans” to “benefit his own family”.

The exchanges happened when Mr Allister referred to Mr Robinson’s “U-turn” on the Maze – a reference to the First Minister’s decision to withdraw support for a peace and reconciliation centre at the old prison site.


Mr Robinson took exception to the use of the term U-turn. In response he said Mr Allister “chides me for doing business with republicans, but then secretly and outside of the House, the member, as the executor of a will, is selling land to republicans in Co Fermanagh to benefit his own family”.

With Speaker William Hay calling for order Mr Allister responded: “I am not the executor. That is a damnable lie.”

Later in the chamber Mr Allister raised a point of order to say he was the “victim of a vicious falsehood”.

“The truth is I am neither the executor nor the beneficiary of any such will or involved in any such land sale,” he added.

Mr Allister asked what protection existed against “such false allegations”.

Mr Robinson then raised a further point of order defending his comments. “He is dancing on the head of a pin if he tries to distinguish between being the beneficiary and benefitting from. Everyone knows he benefited from,” he said.

Mr Robinson added that it was “particularly sad that a member of the family wanted to buy the land and was turned down because the family decided to sell it to a republican”.

“So, it ill-becomes him to come into this House and chide the rest of us of dealing with republicans when he is doing it,” added the First Minister.

Mr Hay said he would study the comments on Hansard before responding to Mr Allister’s complaint.

Later on Monday Mr Allister issued a statement repeating he was “neither the executor, nor a beneficiary” of the will. He said the matter related to his wife’s brother, the owner of a farm in Co Fermanagh who died last year. “He had appointed a nephew as executor with instructions to sell the farm and divide the proceeds between six named beneficiaries, of which my wife is one,” he added.

The DUP yesterday responded to criticism from Sinn Féin MLA for Fermanagh-South Tyrone Seán Lynch who said the “tone of Peter Robinson’s remarks are essentially a signal that it is not okay to sell land to Catholics”.

“Peter Robinson needs to explain his comments. If this is the focus of unionists to score points over one another it is clearly espousing a sectarian agenda,” added Mr Lynch.

The DUP said “as a general principle, it is entirely a matter for any person who they sell their property to”.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times