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Quizzing of DUP adviser halts after Sammy Wilson calls TUV leader Jim Allister a 'thug'

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Sammy Wilson at yesterday's session when he called Jim Allister a 'thug'

Sammy Wilson at yesterday's session when he called Jim Allister a 'thug'

Jim Allister

Jim Allister

Chairman Alex Maskey halted the meeting after 20 minutes

Chairman Alex Maskey halted the meeting after 20 minutes

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Sammy Wilson at yesterday's session when he called Jim Allister a 'thug'

The DUP has been accused of trying to derail an inquiry into allegations of improper behaviour by a minister and his adviser after a former minister described another MLA as a thug.

DUP special adviser Stephen Brimstone was questioned for just 20 minutes by Stormont's Social Development committee yesterday before proceedings were suspended.

Mr Brimstone was being quizzed by TUV leader Jim Allister when former finance minister Sammy Wilson launched into an extraordinary broadside, blasting Mr Allister as a "bully" and a "thug".

Mr Brimstone was being questioned about a phone call during which DUP councillor Jenny Palmer claimed Mr Brimstone instructed her to change her vote at a meeting of the Housing Executive board.

The vote involved a Housing Executive contract with controversial maintenance firm Red Sky.

At yesterday's committee meeting, Mr Brimstone confirmed to Mr Allister that he spoke to Ms Palmer on the phone on July 1, 2011. However, he said he had no recollection of telling her to "do what you're told" or that "the party comes first".

Mr Allister asked Mr Brimstone whether Ms Palmer was being dishonest.

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He responded: "I can't answer that, I have given you my best recollection of that".

Mr Allister then asked if what Ms Palmer said was true, had he broken the code of conduct.

Mr Brimstone repeated several times "I don't believe I used that phraseology".

At this point Mr Wilson interjected: "Stop the bullying – he's bullying, we have got evidence of your bullying on record. You are a thug."

Mr Allister replied: "There is only one bully here and we know who that is".

DUP MLA Gregory Campbell then said the thug comment "was said in a political context".

Mr Allister responded: "I have been called many things but I take great exception to thug."

The DUP pair continued to disrupt the meeting until committee chairman Alex Maskey suspended it.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Maskey said he believed the DUP MLAs' behaviour was "disgraceful and unacceptable".

"In my opinion they were being deliberately disruptive in an attempt to undermine the inquiry," he said. "I was not going to allow that and no member of the Assembly would accept that sort of behaviour.

"Not only was the behaviour of some DUP members unacceptable, it also insults everyone who has participated in the inquiry.

"I will not allow the behaviour of any party to derail this inquiry."

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson claimed Mr Wilson's behaviour was "just an attempt to deflect attention".

"Sammy Wilson's use of inappropriate language at the Social Development Committee was merely an attempt to divert attention from the evidence of Stephen Brimstone," he said. "The decision to end the questioning today will not let Mr Brimstone off the hook.

"I will be speaking to the chair to ensure that he returns to give evidence at the next available date. I will not let the DUP's silly games get in the way of the truth."

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said Mr Wilson had "crossed the line", and said she will refer the matter to the Assembly Standards Commissioner.

Background

Red Sky had a £7m contract with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) to carry out maintenance work on its properties. This contract was terminated in 2011 following concerns the company had engaged in widespread overcharging. The company went into voluntary administration in April 2011. DUP whistleblower Jenny Palmer claimed that the then Social Development Minister's special advisor Stephen Brimstone tried to make her vote against the termination of their contract in her role as NIHE board member.


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