Stormont recalled to discuss allegations

BBC Spotlight programme airs allegations of political interference over housing company

Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

 

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been recalled to meet in special session to discuss allegations of political interference aired in a BBC television programme last week.

The BBC Spotlight investigation made a series of claims about DUP social development minister Nelson McCausland and how the North’s Housing Executive allegedly overpaid £18 million to four contractors.

Mr McCausland faced calls to step aside at today’s special sitting. Mr McCausland has denied personal involvement in the awarding of property maintenance deals by the Housing Executive which runs low-cost social accommodation, despite claims his staff pressured a member of the organisation’s governing board in an effort to extend one multimillion-pound agreement.

Speaking at today’s meeting in Stormont, Sinn Féin member Caitríona Ruane told the legislative chamber: “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 the precedent had been set by Mr McCausland’s party leader Peter Robinson, who temporarily stood down from his role as First Minister over an unrelated issue.

“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,” the South Down MLA claimed.

The BBC programme featured DUP Lisburn councillor and Housing Executive board member Jenny Palmer, who claimed she was put under pressure by Mr McCausland’s special adviser Stephen Brimstone to vote against the board’s decision to terminate a contract with Red Sky, a maintenance company operating from east Belfast.

Mr McCausland has denied personal involvement in the awarding of property maintenance deals by the Housing Executive and the DUP has instructed lawyers to initiate action against Spotlight.