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UUP slam Assembly for 'ostrich politics'

By Noel McAdam

Published 13/09/2016

Hitting out: Mike Nesbitt
Hitting out: Mike Nesbitt

The Assembly has been accused of ignoring the big issues as it re-opened yesterday after the two-month summer recess.

Main opposition party the Ulster Unionists insisted MLAs should have been debating Brexit and the fall-out from the latest Nama allegations.

Instead the chamber debated the possibility of legislation to deal with stalking and the housing allocation assessment procedures.

And today the main topic under discussion is due to be rail services between Belfast City Centre and Belfast International Airport.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt accused the business committee which draws up the Assembly agenda of "ostrich politics".

There was deep frustration in the party, he said, that the first day of resumed business at Stormont was marked by refusal to address any of the major issues that have arisen over the summer.

"To read today's running order you would never know that the UK has voted to leave the EU," he said, referring to the Brexit controversy.

"Or," he added, "that an MLA was forced to resign over how he behaved as chair of a statutory committee, or that a man the DUP appointed to Nama's NI Advisory Panel appears to have accepted £40,000 cash in a clear conflict of interest."

Mr Nesbitt was referring to former Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay who stood down after revelations the loyalist Jamie Bryson was "coached" before he gave evidence to the former finance committee investigation into the Nama scandal.

The UUP leader had asked for an urgent 'matter of the day' debate yesterday following the latest BBC Spotlight allegations surrounding businessman Frank Cushnahan who served on Nama's NI advisory committee from 2010 to 2013.

The Opposition leader said: "I am disappointed we were unsuccessful in requesting the first day back began with a short debate on the latest Nama allegations.

"This head in the sand ostrich approach does nothing to protect the integrity or relevance of the institutions under the control of DUP/Sinn Fein."

TUV leader Jim Allister also raised the decision not to debate Nama as a point of order soon after business got under way, insisting the Assembly should be dealing with "the most astounding revelations" on the latest Spotlight programme.

He accused the Assembly of wanting to "bury its head in the sand" and proceed as if none of those revelations were made.

But Speaker Robin Newton insisted the rejection was in line with Assembly conventions and previous rulings and said he would be working with committee chairpersons in the aftermath of last month's Nama coaching revelations.

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