OFMDFM silence on ministerial code in wake of McCausland finding

Nelson McCausland
Nelson McCausland

The Stormont department which runs the Executive is unable to say who enforces the ministerial code.

The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) has failed to respond to a News Letter request for clarity on who rules on potential breaches.

Nelson McCausland initially said �18m had been overpaid

Nelson McCausland initially said �18m had been overpaid

It is understood that others who have recently attempted to establish who enforces the code have also encountered difficulties.

The issue comes to light after a cross-party Stormont committee ruled that Social Development Minister had deliberately misled the Assembly about his meeting with a firm that has links to the DUP.

The code incorporates the seven principles of public life.

The ruling that Mr McCausland deliberately misled MLAs — something he denies — would appear to raise questions about whether the minister has broken the sixth principle of public life that “holders of public office should be truthful”.

On Wednesday, the News Letter asked OFMDFM one question — who decides whether the ministerial code has been broken? A press officer phoned back to say that it may be the Assembly. However, the Assembly made clear that was not the case, as the code was an Executive matter.

Yesterday the News Letter reminded OFMDFM that the query had not been answered. By last night, our call had not been returned.

It is common for OFMDFM to simply ignore media requests when Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness cannot agree on an answer. It is unclear whether that is what lies behind this latest refusal to answer a simple question.

The DUP has dismissed the Committee for Social Development’s 1,000-page report into one of the allegations made against Mr McCausland in a BBC Spotlight programme last year. DUP MP Sammy Wilson has described the report — which found that Mr McCausland had altered documentation to conceal the fact that he had met with the company — as “a discredited political witch-hunt and a waste of time and money”.

But last night the former veteran Stormont minister Lord Empey said that he believed any Stormont minister could ask the Attorney General to examine the case.

The former Ulster Unionist minister said that he believed that they would be able to ask the Attorney General, John Larkin QC, to look at Mr McCausland’s conduct and advise them whether, if they were to be accused of what he was accused of, they would be in breach of the code.

The peer said that he believed the chairman of the DSD committee, Alex Maskey, could also probably ask the Attorney General for a verdict on the minister’s conduct.