MLA 'disgusted' by swap claims
An independent Assembly member has expressed disgust after accusing a DUP MLA of using her late colleague to deflect attention away from the Red Sky controversy.
Claire Sugden intervened in today's heated Stormont debate after Gregory Campbell alleged TUV leader Jim Allister "persuaded" terminally-ill David McClarty to give him his place on the Assembly committee investigating allegations around a DUP minister and social housing maintenance contracts.
Mr Allister and Mr McClarty swapped seats on the Employment and Learning and Social Development committees in the autumn of 2013.
The DUP's Mr Campbell claimed the TUV leader prevailed upon "the dying Mr McClarty" to let him take his Department of Social Development committee seat to enable him to play a role in the inquiry into DSD minister Nelson McCausland and his role in the Red Sky contract furore.
Ms Sugden, who was Mr McClarty's campaign manager and who was co-opted into his Assembly seat upon his death from cancer last year, raised a point of order with Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin.
"That someone would use my deceased predecessor's name to deflect attention away from their own dirty wrongdoing, I was actually quite disgusted by that," she said.
"No-one in this House knows David McClarty better than I knew David McClarty and I was part of that procedure of swapping committees with Mr Allister at that time.
"Mr Allister made the request politely, there was no bullying and to suggest so not only disrespects Mr Allister, it also disrespects the late David McClarty."
She said the swap "best facilitated" Mr McClarty's wish to advance employment and learning issues for his East Londonderry constituency
"I am disgusted that a member of this House would use a deceased member to advance their own aims," she added. "I am not surprised - I am disgusted."
Mr Campbell made the contentious remarks as he responded to the DSD inquiry report, which found that Mr McCausland had acted "inappropriately" in trying to get the Red Sky maintenance firm's contract with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive extended.
"What was the contempt that Mr Allister held for this House when he went, on the teeth of a report to this Assembly, and he asked the late Mr McClarty could he take his position on the committee," he said, claiming the TUV man had shown no interest in DSD affairs before the Red Sky inquiry.
"What did he do - he went to the dying David McClarty and persuaded him to allow him to get onto the committee."
Mr Allister immediately raised a point of order with Mr McLaughlin.
"Surely there is a limit to the concoction of facts that this House must listen to," he said.
"The late Mr McClarty many, many months before he sadly passed away - because he didn't pass away I think until about nine months after this inquiry started - was quite content and indeed agreed that we should swap committees.
"I know it agitates the DUP that I dared to be on a committee to expose what I exposed but I will not have my integrity impugned or that of Mr McClarty, who dealt with this in a most professional and honourable way, as you would expect. As indeed I did."
Mr McLaughlin said he thought Mr Allister had a point.
"I will review very carefully indeed the Hansard," he added.
"I do think the member (Mr Campbell) needs to be very careful about making allegations that would be impossible in the context of this debate to substantiate and stand up and I think you have strayed very, very close to the margin and indeed I may need to refer back to this matter."
When asked by the speaker to amend his comments to "make them more acceptable", Mr Campbell said: "I know what happened, I know the conversation between the late Mr McClarty and Mr Allister and I stand over what I said."
Later, in response to Ms Sugden's intervention, the DUP MLA added: "I just want to thank Ms Sugden for confirming that Mr Allister did approach the late Mr McClarty when he was very ill to take his seat on the committee."