Northern Ireland news

Little known about Gareth Robinson's business activities

Former Castlereagh councillor Gareth Robinson

In the litany of controversy involving the DUP the name of former leader's son Gareth Robinson has occasionally cropped up. Political Correspondent John Manley reports on the uncharacteristically media shy public affairs consultant...

What Gareth Robinson's Verbatim Communications company actually does is unclear. The Irish News has been endeavouring to find out for some time but the firm's sole director remains tight-lipped about the firm's activities. Its website, although updated in recent years, gives little away, consisting simply of a home page with contact details and the words "Public Affairs. Public Relations. Sponsorship Agency".

Its turnover is modest too, with the latest accounts measuring the firm's income in hundreds rather than tens of thousands. Gareth Robinson did have another company – NI KSD – but the property enterprise set up in 2016 was dissolved little over a year later.

The former DUP leader Peter Robinson's second eldest son had a public profile as a councillor in Castlereagh, where both his parents once held office. He resigned as a local government representative in 2013 to concentrate on his family and his business, set up three years before.

However, any desire Gareth Robinson harboured about staying out of the public gaze in his new career proved futile, because in the following years he attracted an increased amount of media attention.

He first came to the public notice in 2014 when boxing promoter Barry McGuigan employed his services ahead of Carl Frampton's fight with Kiko Martinez at Belfast's Titanic Slipways.

The sell-out event received public funds totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds and had its policing bill waived.

Neither Mr McGuigan nor Mr Robinson would reveal what role the then first minister's son fulfilled.

A couple of years previous, the then first minister's son had hooked up with Frank Cushnahan, the former Red Sky and Belfast Harbour Commissioners chairman who sat on Nama's northern advisory committee, having been recommended by the then DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson.

In what was later identified by the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee as a blatant conflict of interest, Cushnahan was representing half of the bad bank's northern debtors, sharing insider knowledge about Project Eagle, Nama's Northern Ireland debt book.

The businessman was secretly filmed accepting a £40,000 cash payment from Co Down property developer and Nama borrower John Miskelly.

The pair had apparently been introduced by Gareth Robinson.

In a different secretly-recorded conversation, Cushnahan said he had paid £5,000 to Gareth Robinson, which Mr Miskelly later told the BBC was payment for PR work.

Speaking in glowing terms about Mr Robinson jnr, Cushnahan was recorded as saying that the former DUP leader's son had told him that Mr Miskelly was “looking after him” in “other ways”.

It later emerged that the 39-year-old former councillor had been paid thousands by Tughans, the Belfast PR firm at the centre of the Nama scandal, to manage an exclusive event in 2012 where Peter Robinson was a guest speaker.

Tughans is also believed to have recommended to some of its clients to use Mr Robinson jnr and Verbatim.

It was around this time that The Irish News visited Verbatim's Belfast city centre office. However, having been let into the building by an employee of a solicitors' firm that shared the premises, who said she was unaware of the PR company, we found the office deserted and its sparse furniture suggested it was rarely used.

This newspaper has also previously revealed how the former DUP leader's son had 'access all areas' at Parliament Buildings, regularly bringing his clients to Stormont for meetings with ministers, MLAs and party officials.

The Verbatim Communications owner had been seen wearing a DUP-issued pass – a privilege normally reserved for assembly members, party workers and staff.

Among his past clients are Gaelectric and Lightsource, the two firms mentioned at the RHI inquiry on Thursday as former DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford gave evidence.

However, we still don't really know what it is he does.

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