Belfast Telegraph

Meeting urged over contracts row

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has said he does not know who to believe in the row over political interference in public housing contracts.

His Democratic Unionist housing minister Nelson McCausland has denied personal involvement in the awarding of property maintenance deals by the Housing Executive which runs low-cost social accommodation, despite claims his staff pressured a member of the organisation's governing board in an effort to extend one multimillion-pound agreement.

Mr Robinson wants to meet the DUP councillor who claimed she was put under pressure and the housing minister's special adviser she alleged was responsible.

"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 because 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 in a BBC Spotlight programme.

Ms Palmer, an NIHE board member, has said she was put under pressure by her party to change her vote at a board meeting called in July 2011 to discuss the Housing Executive's contract with the Red Sky maintenance company. Its £8 million-a-year deal had been terminated four months earlier amid allegations that the east Belfast firm had overcharged for work on NIHE properties.

The Executive was to vote on a request from Mr McCausland to extend the NIHE contract, which the minister said was so arrangements could be put in place for a proper re-tendering process.

Ms Palmer told Spotlight that Mr McCausland's political special adviser phoned her ahead of the meeting and asked her to vote against the board's decision to refuse Mr McCausland's request.

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