Belfast Telegraph

Red Sky panel too soft on minister

Editor's Viewpoint

It is clear that the issues raised by the Spotlight television programme into Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland's role in the Red Sky housing controversy are a matter of important public interest.

It has led to the unprecedented recall of the Assembly next week, just after MLAs began their summer recess, the announcement that an inquiry is to be held and the summoning of the minister before the Stormont committee which oversees his department's work.

So, given the seriousness with which the allegations raised by the programme are being taken, the performance of the committee in questioning Mr McCausland was all the more pitiful.

He was allowed to speak uninterrupted for almost an hour at one stage and instead of the expected grilling, he was subjected to what, at its most generous, could be described as a gentle interview.

The questioning did not seek to get to the crux of the allegations raised in the programme.

It was in all reality a craven performance by a scrutiny committee which, given the absence of any opposition at Stormont, should be acting as a guardian of the public interest.

Perhaps, as one member later admitted privately, the committee was under prepared.

In that case why call the minister to appear before the committee?

If it was to give the public assurance that something was being done, it certainly did not work in the way it should have. It would have been infinitely better to hold the meeting today when members had been able to fully digest the issues involved.

When public officials, right up to the level of a minister, are being held to account, the public expects them to be robustly challenged.

The truth or otherwise of the allegations in the programme is a matter to be adjudicated on by the official inquiry and any police investigation. We certainly hope that both these probes will be more vigorous and searching than what was witnessed yesterday.

Belfast Telegraph

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