Minister summoned in housing row

Minister summoned in housing row

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has been summoned to appear before his Stormont scrutiny committee following allegations of political interference in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

A DUP councillor and Executive board member said she was contacted by the party before a vote on whether the public housing body’s contract with the Red Sky maintenance company should be ended.

A BBC Spotlight investigation made a series of claims about Mr McCausland, his special adviser and DUP leader Peter Robinson.

There were also demands for the Assembly to be recalled over the allegations.

Sinn Fein MLA and committee chairman Alex Maskey said: “People, both in the Assembly and indeed the wider community, will be demanding answers from the minister and his party about their conduct.

“I have already been in contact with Assembly officials to summon Mr McCausland to appear in front of the Department for Social Development committee tomorrow in Stormont.”

Any hearing is expected to investigate claims made by Lisburn DUP councillor Jenny Palmer which centre on political interference.

A DUP statement claimed that parts of last night’s programme were inaccurate and said it had instructed lawyers.

“The party makes absolutely no apology for fighting to save the jobs of those who we believe were singled out and unfairly treated by the Housing Executive at that time,” it said.

“All political parties in East Belfast made strong representations on behalf of Red Sky, including those from both the Alliance and Ulster Unionist Party.

“Subsequent findings have demonstrated that four companies were identified as having overcharged in a way that dwarfed the scale of the Red Sky overcharging.”

The Housing Executive’s contract with Red Sky was terminated in 2011, following claims of substandard work and financial irregularities.

The Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee has accused the Housing Executive of being “out of control” in the way it managed maintenance contracts.

Following the Spotlight programme, SDLP MLA Mark Durkan said: “The Assembly should be recalled immediately. We cannot wait two months to get answers on this.”

TUV MLA Jim Allister said: “With the dominant party in the Stormont regime implicated, it is clear no local investigation will suffice.

“I am, therefore, calling on the Secretary of State (Theresa Villiers) to step in and oversee a suitable inquiry.

“There is a fundamental issue of public confidence here which must be addressed.”

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