Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Nelson McCausland rejects Housing Executive 'interference' allegations

Minister summoned to Stormont to address BBC Spotlight investigation claims

By Claire Cromie

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has defended his actions in the Red Sky controversy after allegations of political interference in the running of the Housing Executive.

The DUP minister was summoned to appear before the Social Development Committee on Thursday morning following a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme broadcast on Wednesday.

The programme made a series of claims about Mr McCausland, his special adviser and DUP leader Peter Robinson which centred on political interference.

Appearing before the committee with a lengthy statement on Thursday, Mr McCausland defended his actions in the Red Sky controversy.

He said he "would seek to do everything with integrity" and described the BBC investigation as a "rather strange programme" that addressed a "hotch potch" of issues and was "much ado about nothing".

He said he "never sought to influence any contract" and insisted that irregular payments were found across a number of companies, not just Red Sky.

He also defended his special advisor Stephen Brimstone, stating: "I find him to be a person of extreme high ability and the highest level of integrity."

A DUP statement has claimed parts of Wednesday's programme were inaccurate and said it had instructed lawyers, saying: "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.

"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."

The Housing Executive's contract with Red Sky was terminated in 2011, following claims of substandard work and financial irregularities. The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee has accused the Housing Executive of being "out of control" in the way it managed maintenance contracts.

Following the Spotlight programme, Sinn Fein MLA and Social Development Committee chairman Alex Maskey summoned Mr McCausland to Stormont.

Mr Maskey said: "People, both in the Assembly and indeed the wider community, will be demanding answers from the minister and his party about their conduct."

The Social Development Committee has agreed to set up an inquiry into allegations broadcast in the programme.

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