Assembly members call on Minister to stand down pending inquiry
DUP blocks motion critical of its social development Minister
Sinn Féin former education minister Caitriona Ruane: said a BBC Spotlight programme contained serious allegations of financial and political corruption. Photograph: Reuters
The DUP Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland faced several calls in the Northern Assembly yesterday for him to stand aside while an official inquiry is held into allegations of interference in the workings of the North’s Housing Executive.
The Assembly was recalled from its summer recess yesterday to debate a motion tabled by Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance expressing concern at the claims of interference and accusing Mr McCausland of misleading the Assembly’s social development committee.
The vote on the motion was 54 votes for and 32 against but the DUP used a mechanism called a petition of concern to block the motion being carried.
The Assembly heard calls from SDLP, UUP and Alliance politicians for Mr McCausland to step down pending the outcome of an inquiry into the allegations.
The Sinn Féin former education minister Caitriona Ruane said a BBC Spotlight programme contained serious allegations of financial and political corruption.
“I am calling on the Minister to do the honourable thing and step aside from his role as social development Minister upon completion of inquiry and investigative processes,” she said.
Such a precedent was already established by First Minister Peter Robinson who temporarily stood down in 2010, she said. “Anything less will leave our political system open to ridicule, because his actions and the actions of his political adviser have created the thought in people’s minds that politicians are more concerned about boxing off their political supporters than they are about conducting themselves with probity and fairness,” she added.
The programme addressed how the North’s Housing Executive overpaid £18 million to four contractors.
The programme focused in particular on the Red Sky maintenance company operating from east Belfast which in 2011 lost its Housing Executive contract because of alleged over charging and faulty work
Housing Executive board member Jenny Palmer, who is also a Lisburn DUP councillor, claimed that in July 2011 Mr McCausland’s special adviser Stephen Brimstone exerted pressure on her to vote against the board’s decision not to extend the Red Sky contract. Mr Brimstone did not accept her allegation.
The BBC programme resulted in the Assembly’s social development committee which scrutinises the Minister’s department deciding to hold an inquiry into the allegations. The Alliance party has also called on the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers to initiate an official inquiry.
Ms Ruane asked yesterday if Red Sky and another company mentioned in the programme were donors to the DUP. “There is no place for a brown envelope culture anywhere on this island and the DUP and Nelson McCausland have major questions to answer,” she said.
Mr McCausland insisted he did nothing wrong. He said he always sought to act with probity and integrity and to ensure that the Housing Executive gave the best value for money to taxpayers and the best possible service for tenants.
“I have never sought to influence the award of any contract to any particular company. Indeed I don’t even have any role in the tendering and vetting process for any contracts,” he said.
In relation to the allegation of Mr Brimstone pressurising the DUP councillor Ms Palmer the Minister said some understanding of “the broader context” of the matter was required because at that stage it was abundantly clear that “wrongdoing” was not restricted to Red Sky but to three other companies.