08/07/2013 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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edition of Stormont Today. As temperatures soared to their highest


this year under a blazing summer sun, things were just as hot, if not


hotter, in the chamber. In a specially recalled sitting, MLAs


clashed repeatedly as they debated last week's Spotlight programme on


Nelson McCausland and the Housing Executive. There is no place for


brown envelope culture anywhere on this island. The BBC have been


absolutely scandalous in the way they have treated this issue.


have to say to the Democratic Unionist party, have you no shame?


We'll get a comprehensive view of that often bad-tempered two and a


special sitting today and when the Assembly meets, Stormont Today is


there to cover it. So with the sun splitting the stones and


temperatures soaring, members delayed their break and made their


way to the hill to discuss last week's BBC Spotlight claims. The


programme raised issues of political interference in the workings of the


Housing Executive by the Social Development Minister, Nelson


McCausland. With me throughout, our Political Reporter, Stephen Walker.


Stormont was meant to be in recess today. Just remind us of how we came


to be back here again. You are right, we didn't expect to be here.


MLAs and their staff didn't expect to be here. This all came about


because of last week 's programme and the general thrust of the


programme, it concerned allegations of political interference in the


Housing Executive. We've made a number of key allegations. The


programme looked at the behaviour of Stephen Brimstone, the special


adviser of the Housing Minister, Nelson McCausland. There was an


allegation that Stephen Brimstone had tried to pressurise the DUP


councillor by phoning her, to try and pressure right to change her


vote at a key Housing Executive meeting. He disputes that, although


the councillor, Jenny Palma, is standing by her version of events.


Another part of the investigation looked at Nelson McCausland


attending a meeting with the red sky, these were a contract who work


with the Housing Executive. The programme looked at red sky in great


detail. Another part of the programme raised questions about the


way Nelson McCausland had handled a meeting involving a double glazing


firm. And there were allegations he could possibly have given a wrong


impression when he presented evidence to the assembly. Those were


the allegations that were looked at after last week Spotlight programme.


What happened today was those probe -- migrations were put forward in a


motion, it was supported by the UUP, the SDLP and Sinn Fein


alliance. That was the substantive motion that was today. Thank you.


There were two amendments tabled to today's motion. But first, here's


Caitriona Ruane leading off the debate on the main motion.


Spotlight programme aired serious allegations of corruption, financial


corruption and political corruption. Those allegations in the public mind


call into question two of our major institutions. The Housing Executive


and our political institutions. The public is rightly asking questions


about whether or not political influence can ensure the awarding of


public contracts, or even if it can ensure that business competitors


will not be awarded them. They are asking if political influence can


ensure political favours. There is a perception that Minister McCausland


has raised issues around other contractors to muddy the waters


around red sky, when in fact there was no comparison. I am calling on


the Minister to do the honourable thing and step aside from his role


as Minister, upon completion of an inquiry and investigative processes.


The precedent for setting aside and allowing an investigation to take


place has already been set by the Minister's party leader. The


programme reminded people of the Minister's desired approach to


retain red sky, despite the overwhelming evidence of its


wrongdoing. Such an approach was a clear demonstration at best of the


Minister 's poor political judgment, or, at worst, as some might suggest


of boxing of party supporters. The DUP and Nelson McCausland have major


questions to answer. Teddington Holdings is owned by Trevor


Turkington. A public supporter of the DUP. He nominated Stephen in


2011. Is Trevor Turkington or his company a DUP donor? I will give the


floor to the DUP if they would like to answer this question. Do Red Sky


or any of their directors donate to the DUP, and is Trevor Turkington or


his company a DUP donor dashing yes or no? The honourable member made an


allegation which I believe is factually incorrect, that the


Minister was summoned to the committee. Is it not the case that


the Minister volunteer to come to the committee? Can she tell us how


big the brown envelope it was for the �26 million from the IRA?


deeply disappointed that the DUP approach to the debate. The use of a


Petition of Concern in this instance is wrong and inappropriate. It sends


out a message to the public that the DUP think they can abuse these


institutions instead of answering the questions that need to be


answered. So there were two amendments tabled to that main


motion, the first from the DUP. Stephen, why did the DUP put its own


amendment to the motion? They were unhappy with the wording, they felt


it was far too narrow. They put forward an amendment that said any


investigation must include Brian Rowntree, who was involved in the


Housing Executive. They said an inquiry should look at allegations


that have been made by politicians in recent days since the broadcast.


They wanted the investigation to include an inquiry into other


companies. And also the role of the Housing ministers. So they really


wanted to widen the whole remit. DUP then tabled a Petition of


Concern today, which had implications for the vote, whenever


it came. That was flagged up last week, it caused quite a lot of


controversy. A lot of other politicians felt that was an attempt


to squeeze down the debate. They placed this Petition of Concern, and


that basically meant, despite what happened in the vote, unless it had


DUP support, that motion wouldn't go through. Here's Gregory Campbell


proposing that amendment, and he had strong criticism of both the Housing


Executive and the BBC. Last Thursday, the minister came before


the committee and the quote that I have on Hansard was, I confirmed to


the then chairman, Brian Rowntree, that the Housing Executive should


proceed with the termination of the red sky group contracts. Those who


allege that the Minister for social development actually wanted to keep


Red Sky doing what they were doing, keep them in the position that they


were in our inaccurate. The next day after the Minister was with the


committee, the controller general's report was issued. I have a number


of quotes I want to make. They said, I have previously reported my


concerns relating to the executive's management of


contractors. Plural. Carrying out response based on -- in on. These


related to issues such as quality of workmanship and overcharging by


contractors. Plural. Initially problems were identified in relation


to one contractor, Red Sky, who have eyed response and internet services


across a number of districts. Further examination was then carried


out, both by my staff and the Department, who commissioned a firm


of accountants to report to the Minister. Both of these examinations


have identified significant and systemic issues relating to the


management of contractors. Plural. I'm very concerned that the Housing


Executive appearing to luck controls results in this. I'm also


disappointed that these issues were not addressed earlier. Either when


they were first identified by the scheme's inspection unit in 2010.


2010! Or when the issues were raised again in the corporate assurance


unit review in November 2011. Unfortunately there was a


considerable degree of challenge by Housing Executive management to the


findings of the corporate assurance unit. Who was in position in 2010?


Who was the Minister? Minister Atwood was the Minister. Sometimes


people in public life accused the media in a very broad sense of being


partisan. I'm not going to accuse the media of being partisan. But I'm


going to say that the BBC have been absolutely scandalous in the way


they have treated this issue. Both in their programme and in their


interview subsequently. We, in this party, stand over what our Minister


has done to try and expose corruption rather than assist it. We


stand over his integrity. Let us see if others, both inside this assembly


and outside, can do likewise. let's talk about the second


amendment which was tabled by the TUV MLA, Jim Allister. He supported


the main motion that was put together. However, what Jim Allister


wanted was an amendment to that motion, where he was calling for


Nelson McCausland to resign. He feels the Minister basically has to


go. As we are about to see shortly, when Jim Allister spoke in the


chamber, it sparked some of the fiercest exchanges we saw during the


entire debate. Jim Allister's speech proposing that amendment produced


one of the most bruising encounters of the day. It is the Minister that


this House can hold to account. And that is why that is the focus, and


should be the focus, of this debate. But true to form, of course, the DUP


has tabled an amendment. An attempt to divert and divide attention away


from the issue. A desperate attempt to muddy the waters as much as they


can. We heard Mr Campbell today, as we heard him on BBC last week. I


think anyone can see through it. Me thinks he does protest too much. In


the desperate attempts to muddy the waters in these issues. In holding a


Minister to account, let us remind ourselves of the requirements of the


Ministerial Code of conduct. It requires a minister to observe the


highest standards of propriety and regularity involving impartiality,


integrity and objectivity in relation to the stewardship of


public funds. It records reference to the seven principles of public


life. One of those is integrity and another of which is openness. It is


against those standards that I invite the House to judge the


Minister today. Mr Speaker, the member has drawn attention to the


Ministerial Code Of Conduct. Would you like to ask the member, is he


aware of the Members Code Of Conduct and that there is a requirement of


transparency and openness? Would he like to take this opportunity to


declare any interest that he might have had in terms of any of those


who were mentioned in the Spotlight programme?


THE ALL GASP Mr Speaker, I have no such interest


to declare, except, that when, as a practising barrister, I gave advice


to Mr Turkington, in respect of matters. Absolutely nothing to do


with this case or anything else. I thought when the First Minister rose


to his feet to talk about transparency that he might have been


going to tell us about the details of his relationship with various


people. Order!I have to see to the Democratic Unionist Party, have you


no shame? You would use your position and office, abuse it, to


press your own member who dared to stand in your way to stop to promote


a commercial interest -- in your way. To promote a commercial


interest of someone who was a political body. Did you win nothing


-- learn nothing from the �5 land deals and the various property


scandals of a few years ago? Israel are against such that you think you


can still above our -- is your add against such that you think you can


still abuse power? Point of order, would the member like to acquaint


the House with his own begging for funds from developers? I have not


begged for funds from anyone! I may have learnt order! The member's time


has gone. I may have been exposed to such tricks but I learnt no such


tricks. My integrity stands. I must insist. The members should take his


seat. I have -- they have no shame. Order! The member's time is up.


testing afternoon and the temperature did not drop there.


There were contributions from across the House, including Alex Attwood, a


one-time social Development Minister. First, Stewart Dickson


from the Alliance Party. Transparency is the most effective


public inoculation against corruption that any country can


have. What is at stake is the eyes of -- is, and eyes of the public,


the integrity of the House. We are alternate by these events and will


remain so unless, and until, there is an independent, full and


transparent investigation. The consequentialism of what are brought


to life should be -- the consequences must be faced. This


comes down to a fundamental issue. It is a fundamental issue of a few


relationship between one party and business and commercial and


development interests. That is what this debate is about. Let's look at


what the responsibility is. This is a quote, it is important but there


is public confidence in the individuals who are appointed.


Otherwise, there is a risk of repetition or damage. Special


advisers subject to general cause, including, and relation to, the


standards of relation of conduct and codes of ethics. It says, quote,


special advisers must not take part in the work of their party's


national organisation. Quote, must not take part in the work of their


party's national organisation. The question, Mr Speaker, is this, did


the act unilaterally? Was this man out of control or very much under


control, is not of the DFT administer, of who, in those ranks,


are those who are not sitting in those ranks? He was either out of


control, in which case he should be dismissed, or he was under the


control and direction of individuals inside this chamber, or otherwise,


and we need to know. During my time and the time of my predecessor,


there was never like it, in terms of interrogation of the affairs of the


Housing Executive, and that was reported to the committee and this


chamber. What does the DUP do? They rush to protect those who were


indicted. Indicted by the Housing Executive board and by independent


inquiry. The First Minister, as an Executive meeting, says, quote, this


decision around the Housing Executive, quote, this decision had


a sectarian background with a Nationalist minister and a national


gear. -- Nationalist gear. Does that not tell you all you need to know


about the view of some but not many in this chamber?


Nelson McCausland also got his chance to have his seat. He told the


House that he had always carried out his duties with integrity. His


special adviser, Stewart Brimstone, said this in a phone call that --


phone call. I want to pick up on a phone call made in 2000 oven. It


would have been wrong, I believe, and the miss of the special


adviser, if he had not sought to explain to a member of the board,


with whom he had contact and it was a short, eight minute conversation,


some understanding of the broader context of all this. Because,


already at that point, it was abundantly clear that wrongdoing was


not restricted to one contract or indeed to one Housing Executive


district. We know that. Because already, one year previously, under


the SDLP, it was becoming clear that there were concerns within the


Housing Executive at 32nd contract. -- about a second contract. You do


not need to be a genius to work out that if you have more than one


contract involved, and there were concerns about that, and if you have


more than one Housing Executive district involved, it starts to


become clear that this was something endemic, something systemic, within


the whole process in relation to contracts. And yet, when I spoke to


the chairman of the Housing Executive at a meeting, and when he


responded them subsequently in writing, he was assuring me that we


have robust systems in the Housing Executive. "We can stand over


things, we are robust." In fact, at an earlier meeting mentioned in the


report, the then acting chief Executive, Mr Stewart Cuddy, as


surely those at the meeting that the Housing Executive closely monitors


all of its contractors. -- ensured those at the meeting. The monitor


them so closely that the current chairman has to come before the


media and say, " well, actually, we have located a review and there may


be as much as �18 million of work that was overpaid."


When it came to closing speeches, Jim Allister was back in a speech,


followed by Sammy Wilson and the Ulster Unionist leader, Mike


Nesbitt. Esther Wilson made it clear the Minister has his party's


backing. Let's just look and see what members have said today. Mr


Durkin wants to make sure that we do not award a full investigation. Mr


Alistair wants to make sure we do not divert attention from the real


issues. Another wants fundamental questions answered. Mr Copeland


wants a full inquiry. Another wants an intervention -- who thinks an


intervention means that you believe him, wants to make sure that no


investigation is bullied. Mr McRae wants to make sure that we agree to


a full review. Well, what is the only motion which is on the order


paper? It fulfils all that criteria. The only motion is the motion and


the amendment down in the name of the DUP. Why have you put down a


petition? That is themselves. We put down a Petition of Concern two


reasons. First of all, we want a full inquiry. Secondly, we are not


going to allow this to be kicked around and some political game.


Petition of Concern, Mr Speaker, is a projection of politics, not a


political party. -- a projection. It was designed as a safeguard against


sectarian politics. Interest, -- interestingly, David Campbell, much


maligned by certain members of the House, was an offer of the Belfast


agreement while you went a order! The member... Order! The member must


be heard. Order. Mr Campbell, an architect and author of the Belfast


agreement, something that was signed while the DUP stood rattling the


grapes Dom aggregates and marching their trips up and down principal


avenue said it was a safeguard. -- rattling the gates and marching


their troops. Order. The member must be heard. Let us have remarks.


Campbell has written to the Secretary of State to say that since


the Assembly first sat, I believe the Petition of Concern has largely


worked as intended. It is a safeguard. However, the recent years


by the DUP, over a potential vote on the alleged actions of DST Minister


Nelson McCausland, is a blatant abuse of the procedure. The petition


is to prevent... Order. Point of order. The member has accused user


of being in a position where you have allowed an abuse of the rules


of this Assembly. I think that is a challenge to your role and position.


You need to make it clear that the Petition of Concern is in order and


legitimately has been placed before the House. Let me say at the outset


of this debate this afternoon and get it clear, the petition before us


was accurate and within standing orders of the size.


I was with Minister McCausland in Cardiff for two days. We all signed


up to a statement. Consequences for communities and individuals for


breaking the law. The same applies to the ministerial code. He should


stand aside. I asked the DUP, what comes first? The integrity of


politics of Stormont or the party? With the debate at an end, the only


thing left was to vote, three Bolton. First came the DUP


Amendment, followed by Jim Allister's and then the actual


motion itself. Gossipy Petition of Concern, it needed crossed amenities


support to succeed. -- because of the Petition of Concern.


amendment falls. The amendment falls. We now move to amendment


number two. All those in favour say. All those to the contrary noes.


The nose habit. -- noes habit. Can I ask members to please take their


seats and can I ask for the result to be read?


88 members voted, of which 54 voted yes, 61.4%. 32 nationalists sported


of which 100% voted yes. 32% of Unionists voted yes. The motion is


negative. A day of high drama at Stormont.


Stephen Walker is still with me. Put today into context for us. I think,


Mark, you and I have watched many debates and that is one of the most


robust debates I think we have seen in the past few months. Very frank


exchanges were heard tonight between politicians. Very tense exchanges.


Particularly the exchange between the First Minister and Jim Allister.


Lots of pressure being heaped on the DUP. Other parties demanding answers


from Nelson McCausland. The DUP coming back very robust, basically


saying that that nothing untoward has been done. Politics laid bare.


Particularly, the divisions within Unionism laid bare because somebody


heated exchanges between the UUP and the DUP. Do we know what happens


next? We are going into a summer recess.


Abel will draw breath for the moment but in terms of the story goes, the


next big thing will be the deliberations of the social


development committee. They have launched an inquiry and with the


summer recess, it is highly likely that we won't get answers to those


questions until Stormont comes back in the autumn.


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.