Executive can set up Spotlight inquiry, says Villiers

Theresa Villiers,  Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The Assembly has the power to set up a public inquiry into the allegations in last week’s BBC Spotlight programme, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has said.

Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long wrote to Ms Villiers on Monday, asking her to constitute a public inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act into the allegations surrounding both the DUP and the now defunct company Red Sky.

There is already an inquiry by Stormont’s cross-party Social Development Committee.

Yesterday the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said that there was no need for the Secretary of State to approve a public inquiry into alleged political interference as Stormont could do so itself.

In a statement, the NIO said: “Northern Ireland Executive ministers already have powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 to hold public inquiries into devolved matters.

“The approval of the Secretary of State is only required if a public inquiry is to cover the period of direct rule or a period when the Assembly was suspended.

“It is therefore a matter for Northern Ireland ministers as to whether a public inquiry would be appropriate in this case.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that DUP whistle-blower Jenny Palmer spent time in prayer with a Christian minister while the Assembly debated the Spotlight programme.

Cllr Palmer alleged in the programme that Nelson McCausland’s advisor pressured her into changing her vote on the Housing Executive Board, something he denies.

Cllr Palmer told the Irish News that she was visited by Methodist minister the Rev Colin Gracie who visited unexpectedly as the debate was beginning at Stormont.

“Colin’s visit wasn’t at my request, but it was certainly at a time when I needed to draw comfort, and I believe that that is the Holy Spirit. It was a comfort.

“We talked and we discussed a lot of the issues in confidence and we prayed, and he was here for probably an hour and a half.”

Cllr Palmer and her husband John, who is also a DUP councillor in Lisburn, are longstanding members of the Rev Gracie’s church.

Yesterday Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane again questioned whether Trevor Turkington had ever donated money to the DUP. Spotlight revealed that Mr Turkington’s company, Turkington Holdings, had met Mr McCausland ahead of a decision about the glazing of Housing Executive properties.

When the question was raised in the Assembly, DUP MLAs hit back at Sinn Fein by asking about the Northern Bank robbery.