Northern Ireland

Angry exchanges in Northern Ireland Assembly Red Sky debate

Nelson McCausland Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Nelson McCausland said the committee report was "not worth the paper it was written on"

There have been angry exchanges in the assembly as MLAs debated a committee report into allegations of political interference in the Housing Executive.

The Social Development Committee has been holding an inquiry into claims made in a BBC Spotlight programme in July 2013.

The report found that former social development minister Nelson McCausland "acted inappropriately" by asking for a contract for maintenance firm Red Sky to be extended.

DUP MLAs on the committee disagreed.

Mr McCausland said the report was "not worth the paper it was written on".

"Members were not going to let evidence or lack of evidence get in the way of a pre-determined outcome," Mr McCausland said.

During the inquiry, DUP councillor Jenny Palmer claimed Mr McCausland's special advisor Stephen Brimstone had "bullied" her in making a phone call in which she said he pressurised her to change her vote in a Housing Executive board meeting.

Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady told the assembly that Mr Brimstone had been "rewarded" by being moved to the First Minister's Office.

The committee chairman, Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey, said Ms Palmer's evidence had been "convincing, consistent and compelling".

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said that Mr Brimstone's treatment of Ms Palmer had been "beyond description" and that the DUP's treatment of her had been "disgraceful".

But the DUP's Gregory Campbell accused Mr Allister of going to the late independent MLA David McClarty when Mr McClarty was ill, to "persuade" him to allow Mr Allister to take his place on the Social Development Committee.

Mr Campbell claimed Mr Allister "went to the dying David McClarty and persuaded him to allow him to get onto the committee".

Mr Allister responded that Mr McClarty was "quite content" in agreeing to swap committees, and said: "I will not have my integrity impugned."

Image caption The debate concerned Housing Executive contracts held by maintenance firm Red Sky

Independent MLA Claire Sugden used to work for Mr McClarty and took his seat in the Assembly.

She said was "disgusted" that someone would use her deceased predecessor's name to "deflect attention away from their own dirty wrongdoings".

Minority report

The DUP committee members who did not agree with the findings compiled a minority report.

It said that Mr McCausland's actions in asking for an extension of the contract with Red Sky were "solely in the interests of the tenants of the Housing Executive".

The minority report also concluded that Mr McCausland "in fact ultimately supported the Housing Executive's decision to proceed with the termination of the contracts."

It expressed "outrage" that BBC representatives did not give evidence before the committee.

However, other parties supported the committee's findings.

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs claimed that if such serious issues had been raised at Westminster, the minister and advisor would have been sacked.

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Media captionThere were angry exchanges in the assembly during the debate

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said: "This is a story that demands resignations and integrity in public office. Sadly the story today will be one of denial."

SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly said the report had found there had been "political interference at the highest level".

Current Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey argued the report's findings were "lacking in substance and any great evidence".

A motion "noting" the report was passed by 55 votes to 32.

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