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DUP seeks veto on assembly decision over Red Sky affair

THE DUP has been criticised for lodging a petition of concern to veto any decision arising from an assembly vote on the Red Sky affair.

Stormont is being reconvened on Monday in the wake of allegations of political interference in housing matters made against social development minister Nelson McCausland.

A motion calls for a full inquiry to establish "any impropriety or irregularity" in the DUP minister's dealings with former Housing Executive contractor Red Sky and whether there was any breach of the ministerial code of conduct.

It is understood the DUP has also lodged an amendment to the debate that seeks to broaden its scope and take the focus off the minister and his special adviser Stephen Brimstone.

It is claimed Mr Brimstone put pressure on DUP councillor and Housing Executive board member Jenny Palmer to put party interests first when voting on a request by Mr McCausland to extend Red Sky's contract with the Housing Executive.

The contract - worth £8 million a year - was terminated in 2011 following allegations that the east Belfast firm had been overcharging for work.

Yesterday DUP leader Peter Robinson said he did not know who to believe in the row and that he wanted to meet Mrs Palmer.

"The question was asked who I believe in terms of Jenny Palmer and Stephen Brimstone," he said.

"I did consider yesterday inviting them to come and see me.

"I considered that again be-cause I felt that if I did so I would be immediately accused of trying to influence or press-gang someone.

"I put this out quite openly to Jenny and Stephen - if either of them wants to come and see me and speak about the issues I'll be very happy to receive them and talk about the issues.

"But I certainly can't reach any conclusion without speaking to them."

Mr Brimstone has said he did not accept the accuracy of the account of events given by Mrs Palmer in a BBC Spotlight programme.

Last night Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane said the DUP petition of concern raised questions about what the party was "trying to hide".

"This petition of concern is completely meaningless and ineffective as the PSNI will still have to investigate the allegations and the statutory inquiry by the social development committee will go ahead regardless," the South Down MLA said.

"The DUP would be better facing up to the issues raised by the Spotlight programme than trying to block the truth."

SDLP assembly member Mark H Durkan described the petition of concern as an "abuse of power and an affront to democracy".

"The DUP are putting two fingers up not only to the other parties in Stormont but to the Northern Ireland public who want and deserve to know the truth," he said.

Ulster Unionist chief whip Robin Swann claimed it was "desperate act" where once again the interests of the DUP had been placed ahead of any other considerations.

"Abuse of the petition-of-concern mechanism will only further undermine the public perception of this administration," he said.

"The whole purpose of an assembly recall was to restore public confidence in the accountability and reputation of politics in Stormont."

Alliance chief whip Stewart Dickson called for all assembly members to support the motion for a full inquiry.

"It is important for the assembly to unanimously support this motion to restore public confidence in the political process and show that we are treating these allegations seriously," he said.

A petition of concern is designed to ensure sensitive motions at Stormont receive cross-community support.

The mechanism requires a majority vote from both nationalist and unionist MLAs

for a vote to be passed.

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