Bringing politics into the property market

I can't make up my mind whether Peter Robinson's decision to use assembly privilege to strike a personal low blow against Jim Allister over a Fermanagh land deal has worked out in the way the DUP leader intended.

In the short term, it diverted discussion from Mr Allister's assault on the DUP's Maze Peace Centre "U turn", which was presumably the DUP plan.

But against that, the comments have brought a welter of criticism down on Mr Robinson's head from those who believe his comments on "doing business with republicans" were unworthy of a first minister, introducing an unwelcome sectarian aspect to the property market.

Certainly the remarks didn't sit comfortably with the modern day DUP's avowed support for a shared future. Indeed, when I first heard the exchange in the assembly chamber I was reminded of the story a decade ago about senior Orangemen backing a company set up to keep land in Protestant hands

But the DUP has now put out a statement arguing that Mr Robinson was seeking to highlight Mr Allister's alleged inconsistency, rather than infringing on the right of a vendor to sell property to whichever buyer they choose.

Mr Allister, for his part insists he has been the target of what he termed in the assembly a "malicious falsehood", insisting he is neither the executor nor the beneficiary of the will in question.

While this whole affair might have started out as a diversion from the Maze, it struck me that maybe we have accidentally stumbled on a new approach to the long-running dispute.

One group of people want the old Maze jail preserved for posterity and opened to public view. There's another group who want it either bulldozed or left to crumble. On the face of it we have the classic ingredients for a bidding war.

Maybe instead of pouring millions of pounds of public money into the site, the Executive should consider putting the retained buildings up for sale. Whoever has the deepest pockets secures the site and the taxpayer pockets the profit.

In reality, of course, nothing to do with the Maze site, given its tragic history, could ever be so simple.

Besides the politics, such an approach would infringe the economic rule that whatever happens here must almost inevitably leave the taxpayer worse off.