Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Nelson McCausland has questions to answer

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland

The long-running Red Sky housing maintenance saga continues to bring no delight to Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland. The more that is revealed about the issue the more alarmed the public becomes. The minister now stands accused of ordering a civil servant to change a letter sent to a Northern Ireland committee about a meeting held in April last year, effectively misleading members about who attended the meeting.

A firm called Turkington Holdings was represented at the meeting, but the civil servant said he was instructed by the minister's private office to delete reference to the company and insert instead that his meeting was with, among others, the Glass and Glazing Federation and a social enterprise company called Fusion 21. There is no suggestion of any wrong-doing by either Turkington Holdings or Fusion 21.

Both Turkington Holdings and a Housing Executive official back up the civil servant's claim. The onus is now squarely on Mr McCausland to either provide evidence refuting this claim or to explain the motivation for changing the information supplied to the DSD committee.

Given the background to this latest revelation – the minister was also accused in the past of political interference in the running of the Housing Executive – it is clear that an independent inquiry, above the status of the committee's own investigations, is now needed to explore the whole saga.

That should also include whether, if this latest allegation is proven, the minister or civil servant or both broke any codes of conduct.

It is not fanciful to think that if these allegations were being made in other parliamentary jurisdictions in the UK, the consequences would be much greater than is normally the case here.

At stake is the transparency of governance by the power-sharing administration at Stormont and public faith in the process. It also reinforces the need for the publication of donors to political parties here.

It is known that Turkington Holdings' owner has publicly backed the DUP.

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