Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Window is opened on our misty, unhinged democracy

Robert McNeil
Robert McNeil

Stormont was recalled from its hols yesterday to cast more darkness on the issue of alleged political interference in the people's housing.

Personally, I thought all politics was interference. But you have to be careful how you go about it.

You don't want to go bringing improper political influence to bear in the awarding of window contracts and the like.

That's the hotly denied allegation against Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, acting (allegedly!) through his special adviser Stephen Brimstone.

So, before your eyes double-glaze over, pour yourself a vat of methylated spirits to inure yourself against the pain to follow as we watch Stormont's finest sort it out. Caitriona Ruane (Sinn Fein) kicked things off with an interesting and informative point about stationery: "There is no place for the brown envelope culture anywhere on this island."

More concretely, she claimed that after repairs by the Red Sky company, a pregnant woman's roof fell in four times. Elsewhere, she said, tin foil was wrapped around fuses. No wonder sparks were flying.

Gregory Campbell of the DUP lights up any room with his incandescent personality and, yesterday, he put detail into the devilment with a resumé of recent Housing Executive history, the upshot of which was that it was all the SDLP's fault.

He added: "I am not going to accuse the media of being partisan but I am going to say that the BBC have been absolutely scandalous in the way they have treated this issue."

I hate to sound partisan but the conclusion of that sentence defeats its own premise. Just saying, like.

Jim Allister (Jim Allister Popular Front) accused the DUP of bully-boy tactics and dropped this bombshell: "The minister is vicariously liable for his special adviser." I see. Actually, no I don't.

In an intervention that drew oohs and at least one ah, First Minister Peter Robinson (DUP) asked if Mr Allister had any interests to declare regarding those who took part in the programme.

The bold Jimbo said nope, adding only that, when a practising barrister, he'd given advice to a Mr Turkington of this parish (a double glazing contractor) on an entirely different matter.

In tones of sinister innocence, the FM asked Jimbo if he wanted to think again about that. Jim: "Bring it on." Hmm, watch this space. Well, not this one. Jeez, I'm not that interested.

Interestingly, Mark H Durkan (SDLP) tore himself a new one when he proclaimed: "We need to get to the bottoms – the bottom! – of these allegations."

Robin Newton (DUP) said the bottomless allegations were all so unfair and that he had a photograph of Alex Attwood (SDLP) with PK Murphy. Well, as long as they're consenting adults.

He added: "And we remember Margaret – what do you call her? – Margaret ... Margaret Ritchie!" Yes, how could we forget?

Daithi McKay (SF) recalled that, when it came to replastering and hinge issues, Mr Turkington had the ear of the minister. I do a little DIY myself but have never tried that technique. Does the ear go on the hinge?

Ross Hussey (UUP) recalled the old adage which most of us know as "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight/Red sky at morning, shepherd's house on fire." Probably caused by tin foil on his fuses.

Edwin Poots (DUP) accused Mr Allister of "getting into bed – political bed – with the Colombian butterfly hunter". Righty-oh.

As forensic experts examined Edwin's tea, the Pootster painted a damning picture of Mr McCausland as someone who, rather than sunning himself on the Riviera, would more likely be found in the library reading Presbyterian tracts. Jeez. Shocking.

At last, however, cometh the hour cometh the mortally wounded Nelson to train his telescope on himself. In a robust performance, Mr McCausland said he'd been the victim of "wholly inaccurate" inferences.

Whiskers bristling, he maintained there were endemic problems within the whole system, and that more than one company was involved. Oh great. It's worse than we thought.

Regarding specifications for windows, he said these involved a hinge available only in Scandinavia. Fascinating. To be fair, he presented a stronger defence than this, but my notes just have this stuff about a hinge.

Still, on Northern Irish democracy these little hinges have impinged – leaving the unfortunate Mr McCausland with a thick ear.