Belfast Telegraph

McCausland inquiry 'a show trial'

A Stormont inquiry that accused an Executive minister of deliberately misleading members was a show trial that would have made Pol Pot proud, one of his DUP party colleagues has insisted.

Sammy Wilson claimed the probe by the Social Development Committee was something that would have found favour with the former Cambodian dictator as he delivered a robust defence of DSD minister Nelson McCausland during a fiery Assembly debate.

But his claims were rejected by all of the DUP's political opponents in the chamber, as they strove to ramp up the political pressure on the under-fire Social Development minister.

Assembly members were debating the findings of the committee's inquiry into Northern Ireland Housing Executive maintenance contracts and, specifically, its conclusion that Mr McCausland deliberately misled members regarding a meeting he had with a double glazing firm.

While Mr McCausland had met with representatives from Turkington - a firm DUP rivals have claimed in the Assembly has links with the party - the minister had informed the committee the meeting in 2012 was with the professional body, the Glass and Glazing Federation.

Mr McCausland later told the committee he had "inadvertently misinformed" members about the meeting.

DUP members of the DSD committee disagree with the inquiry finding that the minister had mislead members and produced their own minority report.

Mr Wilson said rival committee members had acted like "poisoned, prejudiced and point-scoring political predators".

"It was a political show trial that would have made Pol Pot proud," he said.

He added: "The DUP is not prepared to facilitate a party political attack on Nelson McCausland, which ignored any evidence that did not suit their pre-judged outcomes."

But committee chair, Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey, denied any suggestion the committee had acted partially.

He said the evidence against Mr McCausland "spoke for itself".

"Far from being a witch hunt there has been a painstaking and detailed process of evidence gathering, prolonged discussion on the evidence and careful consideration of different views around the committee table," he said.

"There has been no rush to judgement, there has been no political motivation in reaching the conclusions, no witch hunt - just a plain, old-fashioned, objective, rational consideration of evidence."

Mr McCausland said the inquiry should be consigned to the bin.

He said its findings were based on "supposition and innuendo" and, as such, were entirely unsubstantiated.

"It was a flawed process with a pre-determined outcome that produced a flawed product," he said.

The SDLP's Dolores Kelly said: "The DSD Committee's report into the actions of Minister McCausland is damning. It would be damning in any other democratic legislative body in the world. Mr McCausland has stated that he hopes we can now move on from this issue. That is impossible until the minister and his party take responsibility for their actions."

Ahead of the debate, the DUP tabled the contentious petition of concern voting mechanism, meaning votes critical of the minister could only pass if a majority of both unionists and nationalists supported them.

With the DUP holding the most seats on the unionist side of the house, it was an effective block on any vote. The move was criticised by the other political parties.

A motion noting the report and its conclusions on the minister was supported by 57 of 93 members present, but it fell as it failed to gain the necessary unionist support required for a petition of concern.

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