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Assembly recalled to deal with fall out

Published 05/07/2013

John Manley Political Reporter

THE assembly will be recalled from summer recess on Monday to deal with the fall out from the allegations of political interference against social development minister Nelson McCausland.

Yesterday Mr McCausland defended his role in the Red Sky affair and that of his special adviser Stephen Brimstone, who is accused for bringing pressure to bear on DUP councillor and housing Executive board member.

Lisburn councillor Jenny Palmer claims she was told to put party interests first by voting on a request from Mr McCausland to extend Red Sky's contract with the housing Executive.

The £8 million-a-year contract had been terminated in 2011 following allegations that the east Belfast firm had overcharged for housing Executive work.

The minister is also facing questions over a meeting he and DUP leader Peter Robinson had with Red Sky management after the company had been placed in administration.

Mr McCausland has dismissed the BBC Spotlight programme in which the allegations were aired

as "cobbled together" and characterised by "speculation, insinuation and innuendo".

The minister denied any involvement in the awarding of housing Executive contracts.

"I can assure you categorically that I have never sought to influence any contracts, neither this nor any other contract, indeed neither do I have any role in this," he told the Stormont committee.

"This is, as I have always advised, an operational matter for the housing Executive alone, they make the decisions."

The social development committee has said it will hold an inquiry into the allegations.

Last night Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the revelations raised a "number of very serious issues".

The Sinn Fein MLA said the allegations required a number of things to happen.

"Firstly there needs to be a fresh and thorough PSNI investigation into the allegations made by those individuals on the programme," he said.

"Within the political structure the statutory inquiry by the DSD committee under Alex Maskey needs to be given full support in its work."

Mr McGuinness said it was also necessary for the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to investigate "relevant matters raised in the programme as a matter of urgency".

"These allegations have the potential to undermine public confidence in the political institutions."

SDLP social development committee member Mark h Durkan MLA described the revelations as shocking and accused the minister of attempting to avoid answering "pertinent questions" during yesterday's committee hearing.

"Serious allegations and questions remain about the DUP and the assembly must be given the opportunity to test the veracity of more than one minister," he said.

An Ulster Unionist spokesman said that if true the allegations represented the "most serious case of corruption since devolution was restored in 1998".

The party called on Mr McCausland to stand aside while an independent investigation took place.

Alliance's Stewart Dickson said there were a number of questions the minister needed to answer.

"I hope there will be unanimous support for an independent inquiry during Monday's debate, even from those who are looking to defend the minister," he said. he also called for McCausland to stand aside while the inquiry was carried out.

TUV leader Jim Allister has asked the head of the civil service to investigate the conduct of Mr Brimstone, the minister's special adviser.

"Given the serious nature of the allegations it is important that the matter is dealt with swiftly and without any suggestion of political interference," Mr Allister said.