Ex-minister McCausland under intense fire as Red Sky scandal debated

Nelson McCausland
Nelson McCausland

The DUP has been accused of dragging Stormont’s name “through the mud” as the long-awaited findings of an investigation into the Red Sky scandal were finally debated.

The party’s MLAs were isolated as the Assembly discussed the conclusions of an investigative committee, which found that ex-minister Nelson McCausland behaved improperly when he sought to extend a public contract with a now-defunct housing firm.

There were angry exchanges in the chamber as the SDLP, Sinn Fein, TUV, Alliance and UUP all rounded on the DUP.

However, Mr McCausland hit back, claiming the report – which was around 20 months in the making – was “not worth the paper it’s written on”.

The saga began in 2011 when contractor Red Sky had its deal with the Housing Executive terminated.

It had been claimed Mr McCausland – who was then the social development minister, responsible for housing – had sought to have the contract with the firm extended.

In particular, it was claimed that party councillor Jenny Palmer had been put under pressure to support such an extension while she sat on the board of the Housing Executive.

Stormont’s social development committee launched a probe after Mrs Palmer went public with her story in a BBC Spotlight show in 2013.

The committee concluded Mrs Palmer had been “convincing”, and agreed that Mr McCausland had made a “politically motivated” effort to get the contract extended.

After the Assembly was asked to note the report’s findings yesterday, DUP MLA Paula Bradley (North Belfast) rose to her feet and declared the DUP was rejecting them, opting instead to back its own “minority report” which essentially exonerates Mr McCausland of wrongdoing.

Political rivals then unleashed a barrage of criticism at the party, with Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson (East Antrim) saying the whole debate will leave “one political party, the people in it and indeed this very institution in a perilous state and further discredited in the eyes of the very public whom we seek to serve”.

He added: “This is a story that demands resignations...

“Nelson McCausland and others in his party have succeeded in dragging the name of the Housing Executive, Department for Social Development and this Assembly through the mud.”

UUP MLA Ross Hussey (West Tyrone) branded the minority report “a joke” and “an attempt by the DUP to cover up maladministration”.

Meanwhile, the TUV’s Jim Allister (North Antrim) said the affair “has to be one of the worst excesses of abuse of power that has been seen under devolution”.

Stephen Brimstone, the DUP special adviser said to have pressurised Mrs Palmer, also faced criticism over his performance in front of the investigating committee.

Mr Allister, a barrister, said: “I have encountered a lot of dodgy witnesses in my time, but I have to say that Mr Brimstone takes the biscuit.”

Sinn Fein’s Mickey Brady (Newry and Armagh) said he believes Mr Brimstone has now been “rewarded” by being moved to the office of the First Minister.

A motion noting the report’s findings was carried 55 votes to 32.