MLAs rapped after meeting is abandoned: Chairman Alex Maskey suspended the DSD committee meeting
The childish antics of MLAs which forced a Stormont committee to be abandoned made them look like "a laughing stock", it has been claimed.
The social development committee, which was examining allegations of political interference in the Housing Executive, was halted amid heated exchanges involving DUP members.
Chairman Alex Maskey suspended proceedings after less than an hour.
Yesterday was the latest in a series of committee hearings investigating allegations made in a BBC Spotlight programme about political interference in the Housing Executive.
Its inquiry has been examining if there was any impropriety or irregularity relating to contracts managed by the Housing Executive.
It was scheduled to hear evidence from Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, his special adviser Stephen Brimstone and DSD permanent secretary Will Haire.
Mr Maskey asked the minister whether he had launched legal proceedings against the BBC.
Sammy Wilson interrupted and claimed the question was beyond the inquiry's terms of reference.
It was the first in a series of heated exchanges involving DUP members.
Mr Maskey told Mr Wilson: "I'm chairing this inquiry."
Mr Wilson replied: "You're not chairing it very well."
South Antrim MLA Trevor Clarke accused Mr Maskey of being biased.
He said: "You brought your bias to the very first meeting and your bias is continuing today."
UUP MLA Michael Copeland, who is also a committee member, said the spat had done nothing for democracy.
He said: "It was extremely unpleasant and unfruitful. The last time I saw anything like it was in a very badly conducted school event. It was childish and immature."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said Mr Maskey had made the right decision. He said: "It has made the committee look a laughing stock."
The SDLP's Dolores Kelly, who also sits on the committee, said it was a new low for politics.
Mr Maskey said he was left with no option.
"I am very disappointed that some members of the committee continued to disrupt the proceedings of the committee despite my numerous appeals for members not to interrupt and speak over other members," he said.
"I cannot allow proceedings of such an important inquiry to be disrupted in this fashion and so I was left with no other option but to adjourn."
However, Mr Wilson branded the inquiry "a political witchhunt".
The DUP MP claimed Mr Maskey had been "caught out" trying to change the remit of the inquiry.
"It is appalling that a minister and his adviser present themselves to the committee, members set aside time to attend and on the whim of the chairman, when the inquiry is not going as anticipated, the meeting is adjourned," he said. "It is becoming clear this inquiry is not about finding the truth. It is about finding some avenue to damage the DSD minister."
The committee will meet again on a date to be confirmed.
"We are examining very serious matters and we are there to work our way through the allegations genuinely and fairly. The DUP members, in the words of Jim Allister, just threw a shield around the minister. It begs the question – how effective is this minister if he requires the protection of Sammy Wilson and others?"
Alliance's Stewart Dickson