Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland 'should step aside from role as Minister' during enquiries over alleged interference in running of Housing Executive

The Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled to discuss allegations made in a BBC Spotlight programme

By John Mulgrew

Housing Minister Nelson McCausland should "step aside from his role" while enquiries continue over accusations of political interference in the running of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Assembly has heard.

The comments were made during a special sitting of the Assembly this afternoon which was recalled from the summer recess to discuss allegations made in a BBC Spotlight programme on Wednesday.

Last week's programme also alleged Housing Minister Minister Nelson McCausland had abused his position and misled Stormont – claims which Mr McCausland strongly denies.

Sinn Fein MLA Caitriona Ruane called on Mr McCausland to step down from his role as the 'honourable thing to do' while enquiries continued.

"What has been put forward in the programme clearly warrants investigation," she told the Assembly.

"(I'm) calling on the Minister to step aside from his role as DSD minister upon completion of an inquiry.

"Anything less will leave the political system open to ridicule"

The Assembly was brought back from its summer recess amid calls for full inquiry into the matter and whether there was any breach of ministerial conduct.

DUP Lisburn councillor Jenny Palmer alleged in the Spotlight programme that she was put under pressure by her party to change her vote at a board meeting of the Housing Executive, discussing its £8m-a-year contract with East Belfast company Red Sky.

In the Assembly today, TUV leader Jim Allister told the DUP: "Have you no shame that you would use your position in office, abuse it, to oppress your own member who dared to stand in your way.

"...is your arrogance such that you think you can abuse power?"

Following the Spotlight programme, a Social Development Committee quizzing last week of under-fire DUP minister Nelson McCausland was described as "pitiful" by the Mr Allister.

But despite the recalling of the Assembly from its summer recess there was anger after the DUP blocked a cross-party demand for an investigation into Nelson McCausland.

The party had introduced a blocking mechanism - a petition of concern - which will mean a move to censure the minister is doomed to failure.

The DUP blocked a motion calling for an inquiry into allegations of wrongful political interference, which was defeated.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson had earlier called on the party to drop its petition of concern and for Mr McCausland to step aside during enquiries.

"(We) demand clear answers on the Minister's role and its impact," he said.

Addressing the Assembly today, Nelson McCausland said at all times he "sought in every way" to carry out his duties with "the utmost integrity and probity".

"Let me start by making it clear that, in making my decisions, my primary concern at all times from my appointment as Minister to now has always been to ensure that the services provided by the Housing Executive give the best possible value for money to taxpayers and the best possible service to tenants," he said.

"I also assure you that I have never sought to influence the award of any contract to any particular company."

 

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BACKGROUND

The Assembly was recalled today to discuss claims made in a BBC Spotlight programme last week. The broadcast made allegations of political interference in the running of the Housing Executive. It also featured claims by Jenny Palmer - a Housing Executive board member and DUP councillor. Ms Palmer claimed she was pressured to change her vote at a meeting discussing the decision to axe a multi-million pound contract with Red Sky.

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