Spotlight row: Peter Robinson offers to meet DUP pair

Peter Robinson was asked about the BBC NI Spotlight allegations in Dublin

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First Minister Peter Robinson has said he is willing to meet the DUP councillor and special political adviser at the centre of a row surrounding public housing contracts.

It follows a BBC Spotlight programme, which alleged political interference in the running of the Housing Executive.

The DUP leader said he was offering to meet both councillor Jenny Palmer, and the special adviser, Stephen Brimstone.

A Stormont inquiry has been set up to examine the Spotlight allegations.

And on Monday the allegations will be debated at Stormont after the assembly was recalled.

However, the DUP has introduced a blocking mechanism called a petition of concern which means any move to censure Mr McCausland is doomed to failure.

That move was condemned by other parties in the assembly.

Ulster Unionist Party MLA Robin Swann said: "The decision of the DUP to table a petition of concern against Monday's motion is a desperate act from the DUP leadership to stifle accountability and stinks of protectionism where party must always come first, irrespective of the carnage that causes to public confidence in the politics of Stormont."

'Affront to democracy'

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said: "This petition of concern is an abuse of power and an affront to democracy. The DUP are putting two fingers up not only to the other parties in Stormont but to the Northern Ireland public who want and deserve to know the truth.

"The DUP's actions are an abuse of power and an affront to democracy."

But DUP chief whip, Peter Weir MLA, said: "The petition of concern in no way stifles any debate and all sides will have an opportunity to air their views.

"Those who have attempted to misrepresent its impact have done so for purely political reasons."

The Spotlight programme alleged Mr Brimstone, the special adviser to housing minister Nelson McCausland, tried to pressurise Ms Palmer to change her vote at a Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) board meeting.

Speaking in Dublin on Friday after a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, Mr Robinson said: "The question was asked who I believe in terms of Jenny Palmer and Stephen Brimstone.

"I did consider yesterday inviting them to come and see me.

Pressure

"I considered that again because I felt that if I did so I would be immediately accused of trying to influence or press gang someone.

"I put this out quite openly to Jenny and Stephen, if either of them wants to come and see me and speak about the issues I'll be very happy to receive them and talk about the issues.

"But I certainly can't reach any conclusion without speaking to them."

Ms Palmer, a NIHE board member, said she was put under pressure by her party to change her vote at a board meeting.

Mr Brimstone said he did not accept the accuracy of the account of events given in Spotlight.

On Thursday, Stormont's social development committee agreed to establish an investigation into the allegations broadcast by Spotlight.

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