DUP rejects allegations of political interference over housing company

Assembly committee to hold inquiry into BBC allegations while Northern Assembly expected to be recalled to discuss claims

The DUP Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has rejected the central allegations contained in a BBC Spotlight programme, while the DUP has stated it will sue the BBC over the programme.

The DUP Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has rejected the central allegations contained in a BBC Spotlight programme, while the DUP has stated it will sue the BBC over the programme.

Fri, Jul 5, 2013, 09:19


The Assembly social development committee is to hold an inquiry into allegations of ministerial interference in the workings of the North’s Housing Executive, while the full Stormont Assembly has been recalled to discuss the matter next Monday.

The DUP Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has rejected the central allegations contained in a BBC Spotlight programme, while the DUP has stated it will sue the BBC over the programme.

The programme addressed how the North’s Housing Executive overpaid £18 million to four contractors, and in particular focused on Red Sky, a maintenance company operating from east Belfast. In 2011 it lost its contract with the Housing Executive because of alleged overcharging and faulty work.

The Spotlight programme featured DUP Lisburn councillor and Housing Executive board member Jenny Palmer, who claimed she was put under pressure in July 2011 by Mr McCausland’s special adviser Stephen Brimstone to vote against the board’s decision to terminate Red Sky’s contract.

Ms Palmer told the programme, “He said ‘the party comes first, you do what you’re told’, otherwise there’s no point in me being on the board, if I wasn’t prepared to do what they asked me to do.”

Mr Brimstone said he did not accept the accuracy of Ms Palmer’s account. Red Sky, which employed 450 people, eventually went into administration.

The DUP in a statement claimed the Spotlight programme “contained a series of inaccurate claims and defamatory statements relating to the [First Minister and DUP leader] Peter Robinson, Minister Nelson McCausland and his adviser and other party representatives”.

It indicated the party acted solely to try to save the Red Sky jobs. “The party makes absolutely no apology for fighting to save the jobs of those who we believe were singled out and unfairly treated by the Housing Executive at that time,” it said in its statement.

“[Members of] all political parties in east Belfast made strong representations on behalf of Red Sky, including those from both the Alliance and Ulster Unionist Party. Subsequent findings have demonstrated that four companies were identified as having overcharged in a way that dwarfed the scale of the Red Sky overcharging,” it added.


Action
The DUP said it had instructed lawyers to initiate action against Spotlight.

The BBC said it “stands by its journalism” and would give careful consideration to any issues raided by the DUP. It said the programme “was based on detailed and extensive research” and that “the investigation dealt with matters of significant public interest and was carried out in accordance with the BBC’s editorial guidelines”.

Mr McCausland appeared for over two hours in front of the Assembly’s social development committee to address some of the Spotlight allegations yesterday.

“I can assure you categorically that I have never sought to influence any contracts, neither this nor indeed any other contract. Indeed neither do I have any role in this. This is, as I have always advised, an operational matter for the Housing Executive alone,” he told the committee.

He described the Spotlight programme as a “huge fishing expedition – and not much of a catch at the end of it”.

“There were errors in the programme, there were omissions, and it was largely based around insinuation, innuendo, and misrepresentation,” he said.