Belfast Telegraph

Stormont standards chief branded a wimp by DUP's Sammy Wilson refuses to act on complaint made by the MP

By Noel McAdam

A senior civil servant from Wales is to referee the public fallout between a senior Assembly official and a DUP MP, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Veteran barrister Gerard Elias has agreed to take on the task after Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain refused to act on a complaint from former Executive minister Sammy Wilson.

The Assembly's standards and privileges committee has acceded to Mr Bain's request that an independent commissioner should be brought in instead.

But their decision will have to be ratified in the Assembly because of the unusual circumstances of the rift between Mr Wilson and Mr Bain. The vote is likely to be a formality.

A senior Assembly source said the committee had no option but to accept Mr Bain's assertion that he could not deal with Mr Wilson's complaint against Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir.

"It is just like a judge. If the Commissioner says there are reasons why he cannot do something, we have to accept his bona fides," the source said.

"It is not as if we can simply say, no, we don't agree, you should take this up and put the ball back in his court. As things stand, there is no provision in the rules for that."

The Belfast Telegraph has learned, however, that behind-the-scenes contact has already been made with Mr Elias, who has accepted the task.

This newspaper can also confirm Mr Wilson has brought a complaint against a second Sinn Fein MLA, Daithi Mackay, in relation to an appearance before the Stormont finance committee which is investigating the Nama scandal.

Mr Wilson has complained about how Mr Mackay chaired a meeting of the committee, but Mr Bain said he could not take any investigation forward after Mr Wilson referred to him as a "wee wimp" and "faceless".

The MP's criticism came after the Commissioner found him guilty last year of breaching the Assembly code of conduct by calling TUV leader Jim Allister a "thug".

The Belfast Telegraph last week revealed Mr Bain asked for assurances that Mr Wilson had confidence in him, but the MP instead asked whether there was a "ham-fisted vendetta" against him. Responding to the dispute, Mr O Muilleoir quipped: "I am not going to get in the middle of those two.

"This could be a wrestling match at a WWF level. But I am willing to hold their coats."

The motion from the standards and privileges committee said the appointment of Mr Elias should be strictly for the duration of the investigation - but his remuneration should be at the same level as Mr Bain's.

Mr Bain sent Mr Wilson a solicitor's letter following his "wee wimp" attack. Mr Bain declined, however, to comment on any legal action he has pursued since.

"In view of what had passed between myself and Mr Wilson, I considered that there was a significant risk that any action I took in relation to his complaint might be perceived, either by him or by the Member complained about, as being biased," Mr Bain said.

"In an attempt to address that matter, I wrote to Mr Wilson explaining that unless he confirmed to me in writing that he was content that I should deal with his complaint, I would seek the appointment of an Acting Commissioner to deal with it."

Mr Wilson said he had read the letter with "some incredulity" and replied: "I would point out you are a public servant whose job is to investigate without conditions.

"Secondly, I would point out I brought the complaint to you with the expectation you would carry it out, since that is what you are paid to do."

The former Finance and Environment Minister asked Mr Bain to give examples if his demand was a regular requirement and asked if it was "some ham-fisted attempt to carry out a vendetta against someone who had the temerity to stand up to you."

Mr Wilson refused to say 'sorry' to Mr Bain last year, insisting it would be hypocritical because any apology would not be sincere.

He called Mr Allister a "thug" during a meeting of the Assembly's social development committee, which was examining allegations in a BBC Spotlight investigation into allegations of political interference in the running of the Housing Executive.

Belfast Telegraph

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