Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2012/2013

Date: Monday, 08 July 2013

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Private Members' Business

 

Inquiry into Allegations of Wrongful Political Interference in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Potential Breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct and Misleading the Assembly and the Committee for Social Development

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  If Members want to remove their jacket, they can do so.  Members who may be feeling the heat of the moment can certainly remove their jacket. [Interruption.] Order, Members.

 

Having been given notice by not fewer than 30 Members under Standing Order 11, I have summoned the Assembly to meet today for the purpose of debating the motion that appears on the Order Paper.  The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to two hours and 15 minutes for the debate.  Two amendments have been selected and published on the Marshalled List.  The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose the motion and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech.  The proposer of each amendment will have 10 minutes in which to propose and five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech.  All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.  The Minister will have 20 minutes in which to respond.  The House should note that both amendments cannot be made as they are mutually exclusive.  If amendment No 1 is made, the Question will not be put on amendment No 2.

 

I inform Members that a valid petition of concern was presented on Friday 5 July in relation to the motion. [Interruption.] Order, Members.  I remind Members that the vote on the motion will be on a cross-community basis, while the votes on the amendments will require only a simple majority.  I hope that that is clear for the whole House.

 

 

Ms Ruane: I beg to move

 

That this Assembly expresses concern at the contents of the major investigation by the BBC 'Spotlight' programme broadcast on Wednesday 3 July 2013; notes the allegations of serious and wrongful political interference in the Housing Executive and that the Assembly and the Committee for Social Development were purposely misled by the Minister for Social Development over his decision to seek a review of the specification for the supply and fitting of double glazing; and calls for a full inquiry into the relevant Minister to establish any impropriety or irregularity as well as any breach of the ministerial code of conduct.

 

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Tá mé ag moladh an rúin.  I move the motion.  Ní bheidh Sinn Féin ag tacú leis an dá leasú.  Sinn Féin is not supporting either of the two amendments. 

 

Let us be very clear: we are here today because of the allegations aired in last Wednesday night's 'Spotlight' programme.  That 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 are rightly asking questions about whether political influence can ensure the awarding of public contracts or ensure that business competitors will not be awarded them.  They ask whether political influence can ensure political favours.

 

Of course, allegations, in themselves, are not proof, but what has been put forward in the programme clearly warrants investigation.  The claim that contractors were making illegal payments to Housing Executive staff in order to ensure that they turned a blind eye to payment for work that was either not carried out or was of such a shoddy standard that it should not have been paid for is something that was carried in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report.

 

There is a perception that Minister McCausland has raised issues around other contractors to muddy the waters around Red Sky, when, in fact, there is no comparison.  I call on the Minister to do the honourable thing and step aside from his role as Social Development Minister until the completion of inquiry and investigative processes.  The precedent for standing aside and allowing an investigation to take place has already been set by the Minister's party leader.  Anything less will leave our political system open to ridicule, because his actions and those of his political adviser have created the thought in people's minds that politicians are more concerned about boxing off their political supporters than about conducting themselves with probity and fairness.

 

The Assembly needs to know the full extent of the PSNI investigation.  Indeed, at the Policing Board last Thursday, I asked Matt Baggott to investigate the allegations in the 'Spotlight' programme.  He has assured me, in public, that he will do so.  I await his investigation and report in relation to this.

 

The programme also makes claims about abuses of political governance.  Whatever political parties may have tried to insinuate in the past about sectarian motives for some decisions, there can be no defence or hiding place from the allegation made about the Social Development Minister's political adviser.  The allegations come from a member of the Minister's own party, so let no one try to claim that she has a political axe to grind against the DUP.  Although the Minister and his political adviser have sought to dispute Jenny Palmer's version of events about improper political influence, anyone who has seen the programme will draw their own conclusion about who was most believable.

 

The programme also exposed a difference in a draft letter that the Minister sent to the Social Development scrutiny Committee.  It is very noticeable that the final version of the letter delivered by the Minister sought to disguise the fact that he had met a party supporter who had a vested interest in the awarding of contracts for the fitting of windows.

 

The Minister, in his evidence to the Social Development scrutiny Committee last Thursday, was at great pains to point out that the Housing Executive had already started to review the specification for windows prior to his meeting with representatives of Turkington.  That being the case, the public will quite rightly ask why, if the Minister had nothing to hide, did he seek to cover up whom he had met.  In particular, the public will ask whether it was appropriate for the Minister to discuss with a potential bidder what the specifications of a contract should be.  The 'Spotlight' programme reminded people of the Minister's desired approach of retaining Red Sky despite the overwhelming evidence of its wrongdoing.  Such an approach was, at best, a clear demonstration of the Minister's poor political judgement; at worst, it was, as some suggest, a boxing off of party supporters.

 

There is no place for a brown envelope culture anywhere on this island, and the DUP and Nelson McCausland have major questions to answer.  Turkington Holdings is owned by Trevor Turkington, a public supporter of the DUP.  He nominated Stephen Moutray in 2011.  Is Trevor Turkington or his company a DUP donor?  I will give the Floor to the DUP if it would like to answer this question.

 

Mr Poots: Will the Member give way?

 

Ms Ruane: No. [Laughter.] The questions that I want answered are these: does Red Sky or any of its directors donate to the DUP, and is Trevor Turkington or his company a DUP donor?  Yes or no.  I will give way if you answer those questions.

 

Mr Clarke: I thank the Member for giving way.  In her opening remarks, she referred to speaking to Matt Baggott about the BBC 'Spotlight' programme.  When she had that opportunity to speak to him, did she also raise concerns about one of her Ministers interfering and obstructing police in their duty?

 

Ms Ruane: I note that the party did not answer the two questions that I asked.  We have seen the impact of the brown envelope culture in the South of Ireland.  Last week, we were reminded yet again, if we needed to be, of the arrogance and disdain of the golden circle of bankers, developers and politicians who had been too long in power and forgot who they were working for.  Sinn Féin supports transparency regarding political donations and has lobbied the British Government on this. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Ms Ruane: For the record, all our donations in the North that are of a registrable level are from MLAs, special advisers and other employees.  The British Government refuse to publish the names of donors and hide behind security concerns.

 

Let us look at the record of parties in this House. The UUP and DUP continue to support secrecy on donations.  The SDLP claims to support transparency.  When Margaret Ritchie became the SDLP leader, she said that she would publish the names of donors — that did not happen.  Why?  We know, for example, through the work of the Moriarty tribunal, that Denis O'Brien and Paddy McKillen donated to the SDLP. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Ms Ruane: It serves no one when parties claim to want transparency and continue the practice of secrecy. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order. The Member has the Floor.  Order.

 

Ms Ruane: The British Government continue to facilitate this practice.  Sinn Féin has taken action and stands on its record.  Paul Maskey, in 2009 — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Ms Ruane: — made the Housing Executive aware of the substandard work.  Indeed, he was so worried about it that he asked for a complete investigation.  Alec Maskey, Chair of the Committee for Social Development, summoned the Minister to the Committee on Thursday, and a full investigation will be carried out. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Ms Ruane: I have made a complaint to the Assembly Commissioner for Standards —

 

Mr P Robinson: Will the Member give way?

 

Ms Ruane: No, I will not give way.

 

I have made a complaint to the Assembly Commissioner for Standards regarding Nelson McCausland and await the outcome.  I also await the finding of the PSNI investigation that I requested last Thursday at the Policing Board.

 

Mr Bell: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  The honourable Member made an allegation, which is, I believe, factually incorrect, that the Minister was summoned to the Committee.  Is it not the case that the Minister volunteered to come to the Committee?  While the Member is on her feet, will she tell us how big the brown envelope was for the £26 million from the IRA? [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member's point of order is on the record.  I am sure that the Minister, when speaking in the House, will clarify the position. [Interruption.] Order.  Allow the Member to continue.

 

12.15 pm

 

Ms Ruane: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I am — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Ms Ruane: — deeply disappointed by the DUP approach to the debate.  The use of a petition of concern in this instance is wrong and inappropriate.  It sends a message to the public that the DUP think that it can abuse these institutions instead of answering the questions that need to be answered. 

 

Let us remind ourselves of who was affected by this scandalous behaviour.  It was people such as Sinéad Flannery, who spoke out on 'Spotlight'.  For Sinn Féin, it is immaterial whether Sinéad lives on the Falls or the Shankill or in Sandy Row or Warrenpoint.  Sinéad was seven months pregnant, had five children, and the roof fell in on her four times in a year — four times in a year after Red Sky repairs.  The people of Lenadoon were affected, when, after flooding, tinfoil was wrapped around fuses as a form of repair, breaching every health and safety regulation under the sun and endangering the occupants of the house.  Those people deserve the highest standards of housing.  They deserve the truth, and they need to know that the Assembly will take action.

 

Mr Campbell: I beg to move amendment No 1:

 

Leave out all after the first "Assembly" and insert

 

"welcomes the Committee for Social Development's investigation into the BBC 'Spotlight' programme of 3 July and the allegations made within it; notes that the inquiry will consider the conduct of the Minister for Social Development; considers that such an inquiry should also include the activities, comments broadcast and role of Mr Brian Rowntree in relation to the issues raised including the Rinmore development, the allegations made by politicians and commentators in relation to the issues raised by the programme both during and since the broadcast, the range of companies similar to Red Sky involved in alleged overcharging and the failure of the Housing Executive and previous Ministers to investigate, and the role of previous Ministers in relation to the issues raised; and calls on the Committee for Social Development to request a report from the police into the allegations of corruption made in relation to the Housing Executive."

 

I will endeavour to remain on the topic, even though the Member who moved the motion departed from it.  As others have pointed out, it would take some size of brown envelope to get £26 million in Northern Bank notes into it.

 

Let us deal with the issues that were raised in the programme and the issues that were not raised in the programme.  Sometimes, as public representatives, we do extensive interviews, particularly for television, that are narrowed down to little clips that do not reflect what we intended to say.  Given that, since the programme went out, not one of the participants — Ross Hussey MLA, Jim Allister MLA, Daithí McKay MLA and Michael Copeland MLA — has attempted to clarify their comments or extricate themselves from the hole into which they have dug themselves.  We will assume, unless we hear to the contrary, that they stand over those comments.  I notice that none of them has risen to his feet, so we assume that they are firmly in that hole.

 

Last Thursday, the Minister came before the Committee.  The following quotation is from Hansard:

 

"I confirmed to the then chairman that the Housing Executive should proceed with the termination of the Red Sky Group contracts".

 

Those who imply or allege that the Minister for Social Development wanted to keep Red Sky doing what it was doing and to keep it in the position that it was in are inaccurate, because the Minister said that he had confirmed to the chairman — Brian Rowntree — that they should proceed with the termination.

 

Much of what was contained in 'Spotlight' was gleaned from the Public Accounts Committee's report of February 2013.  In fact, I noticed that even Sinn Féin members who were interviewed this morning mentioned that fact, so there is not very much that is new.  However, what was new was that, the day after the Minister was at the Committee for Social Development, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report was issued.  The Comptroller and Auditor General states:

 

"I have previously reported my concerns relating to the Housing Executive’s management of contractors carrying out response maintenance".

 

Note that "contractors" is plural.  He continues:

 

"These concerns related to issues such as quality of workmanship and overcharging by contractors."

 

"Contractors" is plural.  He continues:

 

"Initially problems were identified in relation to one contractor, Red Sky, who provided response maintenance 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."

 

It is plural.  He then states:

 

"I am very concerned that the Housing Executive’s seemingly lax controls appear to have resulted in such a large potential loss of public money. I am also disappointed that these issues were not addressed earlier, either when they were first identified by SIU in 2010"

 

— that was 2010.

 

Mr Humphrey: Who was the Minister then?

 

Mr Campbell: I am coming to that.  The report continues:

 

"or when the issues were raised again in CAU’s review in November 2011. Unfortunately there was a considerable degree of challenge by Housing Executive management to the findings of CAU which delayed the appointment of external surveyors until late 2012."

 

Who was in position in 2010?  Who was the Minister?  Minister Attwood was the Minister for Social Development in 2010.

 

In his conclusion, the Comptroller and Auditor General says:

 

"Significant weaknesses continue to be identified in the Housing Executive's controls over work done by contractors" —

 

I hope Members are getting the plurality here —

 

 "on its response and planned maintenance programme".

 

So there we have the independence of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

 

Dr McDonnell: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Campbell: Yes, I will.  You had better be brief, as I will not get an extra minute.

 

Dr McDonnell: I will be very brief.  Would the Member like to give us any details of the questions that were placed against contractors and tell us whether, on investigation, those details stood up?  That is essential here.  We cannot play — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Campbell: I thank the Member for his intervention, and that is part of what we will attempt to get at when the Social Development Committee investigates.  That is why one of the amendments is ludicrous.  It assumes guilt where there is no guilt.  That is what we will attempt to get at.

 

I want to move, in my remaining few minutes, to the content of the 'Spotlight' programme.  In the programme, the 'Spotlight' presenter said that they had been asking questions for seven months.  That was clearly said in the programme.  For the first six months, they were only interested in one company, which was Red Sky.  There were very strong reasons why they should be interested in Red Sky and should investigate that company.  However, in the final month of the investigation, after the Minister had stood in the Assembly and not only referred to other companies but individually named those other companies, the 'Spotlight' programme had four weeks — four weeks — to investigate and tell us what they found out about those companies.  What had they to say about those companies?  Not a word did they say, because they were interested in one company and one so-called perceived allegiance or bias of people who were interested in protecting employment. 

 

What were we then told in the broadcast?  The then chairman, Brian Rowntree, was interviewed extensively.  I made this point at the Committee meeting on Thursday: it is inconceivable that the then chairman would have done an interview when he was chairman.  I think that is inconceivable, but let us hear from the BBC when that interview took place.  Assuming that it took place after he resigned, after he found out that the Minister was going to make a statement in which the then chairman would be clearly named and after he decided that he was going to resign, it appears that he then went to 'Spotlight' or a connection was made with 'Spotlight' — whomsoever by, we are not sure — and the interview was then done.  During that full month, there was no indication of any other companies being interviewed. 

 

I come back to the MLAs who were interviewed.  Four MLAs were interviewed: two Ulster Unionists, one from the TUV and one from Sinn Féin.  Which party is conspicuously absent from the interview list for the programme?  The party that just happened to hold the portfolio in 2010.  Why, unless 'Spotlight' had an agenda, did they not interview the SDLP for the programme?  Sometimes people in public life accuse — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order, Members.

 

Mr Campbell: — the media, in a very broad sense, of being partisan.  I am not going to accuse the media of being partisan, but I will say that the BBC has been absolutely scandalous in the way that it has treated this issue, both in its programme and in subsequent interviews.  When people like me say that we hope that the producer and the presenter of the programme will come before the Social Development Committee to tell us about the interviews, how they did the interviews, when they did them and where they did them, the presenter — the person cross-examining me — answers my question by saying, "Thank you very much, Gregory Campbell, we'll go back to another interviewee".  Were they not prepared to come to the House to tell us about the substance of their programme and how they did what they did? 

 

The Social Development Committee needs to get on with the job of unearthing what happened between all of these companies, the Housing Executive and any others who are associated. To do that effectively, we will need assistance from everyone who has relevant information in any of these cases. This includes the Minister, who has already been before the Committee, the Housing Executive, other individuals and the BBC. Hopefully, we will not hear excuses or reasons why people cannot come before the Committee to answer questions.  We in this party stand over what our Minister has done to expose corruption, rather than assist it. We stand over his integrity. Let us see if others, both inside the Assembly and outside, can do likewise.

 

 

Mr Allister: I beg to move amendment No 2:

 

Leave out all after "glazing" and insert

 

"; and having no confidence in the Minister for Social Development calls on him to resign."

 

I begin on a totally non-controversial note by saying that it is great to see back in the Chamber the Member for East Londonderry Mr David McClarty.  [Applause].

 

Members: Hear, hear.

 

Mr Allister: It is marvellous that he is back with us. I am sure we all wish him every success in the recovery and the battle that he has.

 

I am not here today to defend the Housing Executive. I am not here today to defend any contractor, whatever vested interest others might have.  I have no vested interest in defending any contractor. This debate is about the Minister. 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 the debate. True to form, of course, the DUP has tabled an amendment in 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 the BBC last week, and I think anyone can see through it. Methinks he doth 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 Ministers 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 which is integrity and another of which is openness. It is against those standards that I invite the House to judge the Minister today.  Are the Minister and those for whom he has responsibility in a position to demonstrate the highest standards of propriety, particularly in regard to the bully boy tactics of his special adviser? Now the Minister is vicariously liable for his special adviser from the moment that he endorses and backs him, which is what he has done in this case. So he stands over —

 

Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Member has just drawn attention to the ministerial code of conduct. Would you like to ask the Member if he is aware of the Members' code of conduct and that there is a requirement for 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? [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

12.30 pm

 

Mr Allister: Mr Speaker, I have no such interest to declare except that, when I was a practising barrister, I gave advices to Mr Turkington in respect of matters.  Those were absolutely nothing to do with this case or anything else.  However, I thought that when the First Minister rose to his feet to talk about transparency, he might have been going to tell us about the details of his relationship — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Allister: — with Mr Norman Hayes and Mr Turkington — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Allister: — and a dozen others.

 

Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  I ask the Member, through you, to think again about whether he has any further interests to declare.

 

Mr Allister: If the First Minister has something to put to me —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Allister: — bring it on.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Let us try to get back to the motion that is before the House.  Order.

 

Mr Allister: The Minister is vicariously liable for his SpAd.  His SpAd behaved in a bully-boy fashion to a member of his own party, telling her, "The party comes first" and "You do what you are told".  The totalitarianism of it is staggering, and what was she being told to do?  She was being told to reverse a previous decision and to extend the contract term for Red Sky.  The Minister wrote asking that that might be up to six months, and yet, in a letter to 'Spotlight', he has denied that he ever sought an extension to the Red Sky contract.  Yet, his letter asked for that extension.  It is quite clear that the Minister, through his special adviser, was in the business of promoting not just a party interest but a commercial interest, with which the party is aligned.  That is the essence of it, and that is why the administrator was cut out of the meeting that Mr Douglas, the First Minister, the Minister for Social Development, his SpAd and DSD officials attended.  They wanted to go behind the back of the administrator.  They wanted to go behind the back of the administrator for the purpose of giving time for Totalis, the reincarnation of Red Sky, to get up and running to compete for contracts. 

 

That is what that was all about, and anyone who watched Councillor Jenny Palmer should have no difficulty in deciding who is telling the truth.  She exuded integrity and honesty in everything that she said.  What a contrast with the cutting-and-running SpAd who could not even face the cameras.  The First Minister is in the perilous position on the fence of not knowing who to believe.  He must be the only person in this country who does not know who to believe on that.  Of course, that position itself, as with the petition of concern today, is engendered by the party-comes-first attitude that is the hallmark of all of that. 

     

Perhaps, in a way, the most damning portion of the programme was that which dealt with the glazing contracts.  After representations from a DUP donor, Mr Turkington, the Minister put on hold the glazing contracts so that those could be separated out from the general housing replacement work and so that Turkington's could directly contract on the window front in that regard.  The Minister misrepresented to the Committee for Social Development his involvement and whom he met.  He told the Committee that he had a meeting with Fusion21 and the Glass and Glazing Federation.  He had a meeting with Turkington Holdings, asked for in a letter of 2 February.  Interestingly enough, that letter was cc'd to the Finance Minister.  A meeting then took place, and at that meeting, Turkington's made its representation.  The Housing Executive staff who were present said that it was nothing to do with the Glass and Glazing Federation, and the Glass and Glazing Federation said that it had nothing to do with it.  Personnel at the meeting said that it had nothing to do with the federation.  Yes, the Minister had a meeting with Fusion21 on 23 April, but it had nothing to do with the glazing contracts.  Yet he changes a letter, drafted for him, to suggest that he had met the Glass and Glazing Federation and Fusion21.  He went on to talk about "this meeting" in the singular, as though they were both there — they were not.  The only people there were from Turkington Holdings.  Yes, he had a meeting with Fusion21 on 14 May, but he had already, on 30 April, written to the Housing Executive to change the spec on the glazing contract.  He had already made the decision and made it not on the basis of input from Fusion21 or from the glass and glazing contractors but on the basis of input from Turkington Holdings, which had a vested interest.  Those are the facts.  Why did the Minister mislead the Committee and the House on those matters? 

 

I have to ask the Democratic Unionist Party this:  have you no shame that you would use your position in office — abuse it — to oppress a member of your party who dared to stand in your way in order to promote the commercial interest of a political buddy?  Did you learn nothing from the £5 land deals and the various property scandals of a few years ago?  Is your arrogance such that you think that you can still abuse power for your own ends and those of your friends?

 

Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  Would the Member like to acquaint the House with his own begging for funds from developers?

 

Mr Allister: I have not begged for funds from anyone.  I may have learned — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member's time has gone.

 

Mr Allister: I may have — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order, Members.

 

Mr Allister: I may have been exposed to such tricks when — [Interruption.] — I was in the DUP, but I learned no such tricks.  My integrity stands intact, unlike that of the shameless ones, who have no shame, and who are here today to promote themselves and their friends, the developers. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  I must insist that the Member take his seat.  The Member's time is up.

 

Mr Durkan: The revelations by 'Spotlight' and its allegations and insinuations of political corruption — at least that, and possible criminality — have generated huge public interest.  Not only have they aroused public interest, they have shaken public confidence — confidence in Mr McCausland as Minister, confidence in Mr Brimstone as his special adviser, confidence in this very Assembly and confidence in democracy.  We must act swiftly and decisively to restore that confidence.  That is why we must get to the truth.  Not only do the public have a desire to know the truth, they a right to it. 

 

Why, then, has the DUP lodged a petition of concern against today's motion?  What more has it to hide?  Maybe someone in the party persuaded it, as Mr Brimstone persuaded Councillor Palmer, that the party must come first.  We need to get to the bottom of the allegations of political interference, and it appears that the DUP is determined to thwart that quest for the truth.  To do so, it is once more misusing the petition of concern device.  A mechanism created to protect minorities is now being abused to preserve ministries.  This is the DUP sticking two fingers up, not just to us, its political opponents, and the people who elected us but to the people who elected them.  You should hang your heads in shame.

 

The programme raised many questions.  How does the DUP do business?  What is the relationship between Red Sky and the DUP?  Mr McCausland's critique of the programme was that it was a hotchpotch that left bits out.  Maybe the bits that the programme left out are what the DUP is so keen to keep out of the public domain.

 

Mr Clarke: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Durkan: No, I will not.

 

The programme did not really touch on political donations.  Although the corporate hospitality lavished on Housing Executive officials was mentioned, there was no mention of elected representatives or SpAds receiving similar treatment.  It is important that the debate and questions remain focused on the questions that the 'Spotlight' programme raised.  We cannot be distracted by the DUP, which will filibuster and hide behind the ASM report, the fig leaf that the Minister claims proves his decency.  That report vindicates all that he said and did, he claimed on Thursday.  No, it does not.  Claims of overpayments were overblown in a direct attempt to further discredit the Housing Executive and to distract from the BBC exposé that the DUP knew was coming.

 

Mr McGlone: I thank the Member for giving way.  Will he put on record that one contractor that the Minister made allegations against had one of its contracts looked at over a nine-month period and an alleged £130,000 overpayment amounted to a £3,000 overpayment?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute.

 

Mr Durkan: I am aware that the reports put out were based on the extrapolation of figures, but even if accurate, two wrongs do not make a right, and nothing can vindicate the political interference that, if proven, constitutes a clear breach of the ministerial code.

 

There is also a SpAd code, and if what Jenny Palmer claims is true, and I have no reason to doubt that it is, and if Mr Brimstone acted unilaterally, that code was breached.  If he acted on instruction, who instructed him?  Has Mr McCausland or the First Minister established the veracity of Councillor Palmer's claims?  Do they even care?  Was their meeting with the former directors of Red Sky in a ministerial capacity or as political representatives, as originally claimed?

 

The Minister should not have met with those people to discuss contracts in the absence of the administrators or Audit Office.  What is more, Minister McCausland knows that now and knew it then.  He said that he sought legal advice prior to that meeting because he knew that questions were bound to be asked.  Does he seek legal advice before every meeting?  Why did he think that questions would be asked?  Will the Minister publish that legal advice?  Did he seek legal advice before meeting Turkington's or before taking as gospel its erroneous claim that it could save his Department £15 million?

 

The Minister was accused of misleading the Committee and he certainly obfuscated on this issue and others.  Last week, he told us that the ASM report, which he heralded as his redemption, was totally accessible to the public.  It is not.  There are many questions around the Minister's conduct and question marks over his future.  Those questions need to be answered.  The SDLP demands it, the House demands it and the public demand it.

 

Furthermore, we want to see a full and thorough police investigation into allegations of criminality in the 'Spotlight' programme.  Although the DUP may invoke all its political chicanery to avoid and evade accountability to the House, those accused of wrongdoing must not be able to sidestep the rigours of the law.

 

Mr Campbell: On a point of order, the MLA who just spoke alluded to our party's amendment thwarting the ongoing investigation.  Will you confirm, Mr Speaker, that the outcome of this debate and any vote that follows will have no impact whatsoever on the decision by all parties, supported by our party and the SDLP, to investigate by the Committee for Social Development?

 

Mr Speaker: On the point of order, that is exactly right.  The debate and any vote do not add anything to what the Committee may do or any decisions that it may make.

 

Mr P Robinson: On a further point of order, will you confirm that it is the DUP amendment that asks for a police investigation?

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  I am sure that Members read and saw the amendments for themselves.

 

Mr Durkan: On a point of order.  Why, then, the petition of concern?  Would either Member like to answer?

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Petitions of concern are for parties, and parties alone.  Let us move on.

 

12.45 pm

 

Mr Copeland: I will attempt to cut straight to the chase.  The 'Spotlight' programme called into question the alleged conduct of some elected representatives, and that strikes at the very heard of this devolved institution.  The programme raised several issues:  first, political interference, and I will leave that to my colleague Ross Hussey; and, secondly, we have the Red Sky meeting.  'Spotlight' demonstrated that a meeting took place between the Minister for Social Development, DUP representatives, including the First Minister, and Red Sky on 27 June 2011.  During that meeting, we have been told that the minutes show that the Minister's preferred choice was to extend the Housing Executive's contract with Red Sky, which was worth around £7 million per annum.  That was despite the fact that he was aware of the contractor's involvement in overcharging, something he has quite rightly referred to as a scandal. 

 

It appears on the face of it that we have a situation where a Minister wanted to extend the contract of a firm that he knew had been involved in financial impropriety and irregularity.  The reason given by the Minister and his party colleagues is a laudable one; that of saving jobs in east Belfast.  However, Minister, is it not true that all those workers who fulfilled the legal criteria on these contracts had their jobs guaranteed through Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE)?  Is it not further true that the administrators took 11 weeks to identify those workers to the Housing Executive due to a lack of clarity within the management of Red Sky?  That suggests to me, and you will forgive me, that it was not the interests of the workers but the interests of the directors and shareholders that had primacy in these considerations.  It must call into question the actions taken on the basis of saving jobs. 

 

Of further concern about this meeting was the fact that neither the administrators who were effectively in charge of Red Sky at the time nor the Housing Executive was present at this meeting, and the Minister has so far dodged giving any answer as to why that was the case.  He claims to have sought legal advice before and after the meeting, and that somehow puts him in the clear.  Let us have details of what this legal advice was on record here today.  Why was it sought and from whom, on both occasions?  I think that the fact that the Minister sought this advice before the meeting indicates that he knew he was on very shaky ground.  I also have very serious reservations about the Minister being present at this meeting, given that an open tender process for Housing Executive contracts was imminent.  If any contractor were to gain an unfair advantage when tendering for a contract because of any meeting held with the relevant Minister or Ministers, there appears to be a case for a potential breach of the ministerial code.

 

Mr McGlone: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Copeland: No, sir. 

 

The Minister should perhaps reflect on that. 

 

Lastly is the issue of the Minister seeking a review of the double glazing of all Housing Executive properties.  The target, of course, has merits, but the Minister's actions in the deliverance of it, perhaps less so.  Much of the alleged wrongdoing in this incident centres on a meeting that the Social Development Minister had in May 2012.  Publicly, we were told that the review was being conducted in light of this meeting, which was, according to the Minister, with the Glass and Glazing Federation and Fusion.  Fusion has since issued a statement saying that it did not meet with the Minister on this matter, and the federation is seemingly unaware of any such meeting; rather, it was Turkington Holdings that the Minister met, a company that appears to have links with his party. 

 

The Minister has, therefore, misled the Social Development Committee with his correspondence and misled this House with his statement on 18 September 2012.  If that was done as an attempt to hide the fact that he decided to suspend the supply and fitting of double glazing off the back of a meeting with a link company, then, again, I am afraid that he has serious questions to answer about breaches of the ministerial code. 

 

I very much doubt that what I have outlined here today is anywhere near the beginning of the full story, which is why we need a full inquiry as the motion suggests. 

 

Finally, I ask the Minister to confirm whether he or to his knowledge any other Ministers, party members or advisers have enjoyed hospitality, as has been alluded to, in the homes of or at the expense of Red Sky as a company or of any other person formally connected with the company, in light of all this?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is up.

 

Mr Copeland: I have finished, sir.

 

Mr Dickson: To quote Kenneth Clarke MP:

 

"Transparency is the most effective public inoculation against corruption that any country can have."

 

What is at stake is, in the eyes of the public, the integrity of this House.  Every single Member is tarnished by the events that bring us here today, and we will remain so unless and until there is an independent, full, open and transparent investigation and the consequences of what it brings to light are faced up to.  Nothing else will suffice.  Today is about an individual Minister and a political party and how they rise to the challenge of being part of the Government and holding public office.  I refer to Minister McCausland.  It is he and his integrity and that of his party and the office that he holds that is under scrutiny here today.

 

Mr Lyttle: I thank the Member for giving way.  Does he agree that given the seriousness of the allegations, it would be only appropriate that the Minister step aside until any inquiry is allowed to run its full course?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has a minute added to his time.

 

Mr Dickson: I wholly agree with the Member.

 

In the wake of the very serious allegations of wrongdoing, nothing would or should give this House more pleasure than to see Minister McCausland voluntarily stepping aside and submitting himself, his Department, the Housing Executive and his party — the DUP — to a full and independent scrutiny, including, where appropriate, by the police.  By doing so, the Minister would not only confound his critics but rebuild public trust and confidence in the institution in which he took a pledge of office:

 

"to discharge in good faith all the duties of the office".

 

Further, Minister McCausland signed up to a ministerial code, which has already been quoted.  To save time, I will not re-quote it. 

 

Minister McCausland has a duty to refer himself to the Commissioner for Standards, to fully cooperate with the inquiry set up by the Committee for Social Development, to report such matters that may be appropriate to the PSNI, to refer the alleged allegations of his special adviser and civil servants to the head of the Civil Service, and to commit today to abide by the outcome of those inquiries.  For the record, in the event that the Minister will not —

 

Mr P Robinson: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Dickson: No, I will not give way further.

 

For the record, in the event that the Minister will not make appropriate referrals, the Alliance Party has done so.  I further advise the House that my colleague Naomi Long, MP for East Belfast, has written to the Secretary of State asking for a public inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act 2005.  That way, we may not only get to the bottom of this unsavoury mess but go some way to restoring the value and integrity of the seven principles of public life, particularly the principle of integrity, which requires:

 

"Holders of Public Office not to place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their duties."

 

The use of a petition of concern requires serious reform, given that, today, it is once again being used to protect a party political interest and not, as, I believe, it was conceived, to protect minorities.  If the DUP was really committed to having this matter fully investigated, as its amendment asks, why did it launch that petition of concern?  Surely a more constructive approach would have been to contact the Whips to attempt to persuade —

 

Mr P Robinson: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member has the Floor.

 

Mr Dickson: — us of the merits of the amendment.

 

Mr P Robinson: He asked a question.  Will he give way?

 

Mr Dickson: No.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr P Robinson: You do not want an answer to the question.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Dickson: Surely a more constructive approach would have been to contact the Whips to attempt to persuade us of the merits of its amendment rather than choose the method of a petition of concern.  That only serves to heighten the belief that it is a party that has something to hide.  I call on the DUP to abandon its petition of concern.  I call on the Minister to stand aside voluntarily, and I call on the House to back the motion and to begin to restore public confidence. 

 

We demand clear answers on the Minister's role and its impact, as well as clarity around the reference to Turkington windows.  Did the Minister meet it?  There are allegations of improper influence over employees and board members of the Housing Executive, and there are suggestions that the Minister has misled the Assembly and its Committees.  Only an investigation will adequately provide answers to those.

 

Mr Newton: I welcome this chance to shine a light on this matter.  I look forward to the proposed Committee inquiry.  Bring it on.  Let us shine a light into every dark corner of this matter.

 

Some Members: Hear, hear.

 

Mr Newton: Let the Committee bring to the inquiry, as one of its first witnesses, the Minister who refused to fully investigate this matter; Minister Attwood.  Let him explain why he could not see the injustice, the prejudice and the one-sidedness of only one company being singled out for seemingly overcharging too much.  Overcharging is simply wrong, and no firm should be allowed to get away with it.  It is public money.  But to single out only one company, when all contractors are subject to the same quality measurements and methods of scrutiny, is not only unjust but biased and partial.

 

The situation in east Belfast was this:  450 jobs were at stake — local jobs and jobs for people from outside east Belfast.  From both sides of the community, 450 families would suffer.  DUP Members have been criticised for representing the Red Sky workforce.  Is there any West Belfast MLA, were 450 jobs to be at stake in that constituency, who would not have done the same?  I think not.  In fact, the headline story would have been if the DUP MLAs had not put their shoulders to the wheel and sought to provide support to a local firm of this calibre. How the media would have criticised in those circumstances, had we not supported the company.   Indeed, other parties also supported Red Sky:  other parties, including the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionist Party, as the Social Development Committee inquiry will show.

 

This east Belfast company had been identified.  It had been singled out and was being investigated by NIHE — an investigation that was initiated by the former chairman, Mr Brian Rowntree; an exercise that was strongly perceived by Red Sky employees to be sectarian.  Mr Rowntree was keeping his Minister fully up to speed, but was Mr Attwood fully on top of his brief?  Minister Attwood, after leaving DSD, and commenting on the possible reinstatement of the Red Sky contract, said:

 

"I simply do not understand how a conclusion can be drawn that there are somehow issues around other contractors in the scale and magnitude of the issues around Red Sky."

 

Mr Attwood was simply wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again:  four times wrong, Minister Attwood.  The scale of overcharging within one of the firms awarded the Red Sky contract was off the Richter scale.  They were part of the overpayment of £18 million.

 

Much has been made of who DUP members get their photograph taken with.  I have a photograph.  It is a photograph of Minister Attwood, and he is standing alongside P K Murphy.  This photograph, at least until recently, was on the P K Murphy website.

 

A Member: 'Spotlight' missed that.

 

Mr Newton: 'Spotlight' missed that.

 

Mr Clarke: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Newton: Let me suggest that there are other questions —

 

Mr Clarke: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Newton: — that need answers.

 

Mr Clarke: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Newton: There are other questions that need answers.  I will give way, Mr Speaker.

 

Mr Clarke: I thank the Member for the picture that he just used.  Is he prepared to leave that in the Library for the rest of us to get a look at?

 

Mr Newton: I am happy to do that, Mr Speaker.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute to his time.

 

Mr Newton: Let me suggest that there are other questions that need answers.  Which firms benefited from the unseemly carve-up of the Red Sky contract — Minister Attwood's carve-up, without due diligence on procurement issues being fulfilled?  Which firms got what percentage of the contracts?  What was the financial value to each of the firms, and what due diligence took place before the contract carve-up went to firms that, subsequent to Minister McCausland's initiating an investigation, were found to have been overcharging — a scale of overcharging that is difficult to understand?

 

Much has been made of DUP political relationships.  Let me pose questions on political relationships.  Has the SDLP any questions to answer?  We remember Margaret — ah, what do you call her?  Whatever her name — Margaret Ritchie. [Laughter.] When she was leader, she was going to publish all the donations.  Have individual SDLP MLAs and Ministers done that?  Are there questions about financial donations to the SDLP, questions about who attends SDLP events or SDLP dinners, questions about funding or donations?  Much has been made from this quarter.  Mr Norman Hayes is not a member of the DUP; has never been a member of the DUP; has never contributed to the Democratic Unionist Party; has never been a fundraiser for the Democratic Unionist Party.

 

Let me also say this:  is there supporting evidence — the employees strongly felt it — that Red Sky was being targeted in a sectarian manner?  Yes, there is.  Yes, there is, and the one-dimensional and shallow look by the BBC 'Spotlight' programme either missed the information or simply refused to take it to the table.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr Newton: That information exists and will be produced.

 

1.00 pm

 

Mr Maskey: I support the motion and oppose both amendments.  I want to make a number of points.  I did not really want to deal with the issue of the Committee and how the media treated the Committee's performance last Thursday.  However, for what it is worth, I want to put on record that I contacted the Minister's special adviser at around 12.38 am to say that I had no alternative but to have the Minister summoned to attend a Committee meeting because of the programme.  Subsequent to that text conversation that I had with Stephen Brimstone, the Minister confirmed to me at 1.25 am that he would be keen to attend the meeting.  That is a matter of record.

 

The Minister attended the Committee meeting on Thursday morning.  As far as I was concerned, I was chairing the meeting.  The Committee agreed, first thing on Thursday morning, that we would conduct an inquiry.  In other words, we agreed to establish an inquiry.  That was very important, and Gregory Campbell has already made the point that the Committee unanimously agreed that we would convene a special inquiry into all these matters.

 

I am further pleased that members agreed that we would maximise the terms of the inquiry and invite as many relevant people as possible to contribute evidence to it.  As we speak, I am engaged with Assembly officials to work out the details and timescale of that, and so on.  The Social Development Committee will take that forward in due course as promptly as is practicably possible.

 

The Committee takes seriously any suggestion that it has been misled by anyone.  Again, I want to place on record that the Committee has rigorously pursued all the matters that were dealt with in the 'Spotlight' programme.  In fact, as has been said, quite a number of the issues that were raised in it have been aired before, not least in the Assembly, at the Committee and, indeed, in the PAC report.  That is just for the record.

 

The Committee will take the matter forward, and I have no doubt whatsoever that when the inquiry gets under way, it will be a fundamentally rigorous examination of all the relevant matters —

 

Mr Campbell: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Maskey: No, thank you.  All Members will have an opportunity to speak this afternoon, so I will not take any interjections.  I have a lot to get through.

 

On behalf of all the members of the Committee, I can safely say that, as was agreed on Thursday, we will rigorously pursue every line of inquiry and every piece of evidence.  We will have available to us all the relevant individuals, including the Minister, who has said that he is available to participate in the inquiry.

 

Mr P Robinson: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Maskey: Everyone will be invited to —

 

Mr P Robinson: Will the Member give way?  He will get an extra minute, and I will be less than a minute.

 

Mr Maskey: I am not going to give way, First Minister, with all due respect.  As I have said, I do not want to differentiate between one Member and another.  I have a lot to get through.  You and others will have an opportunity to speak.  I am not being disrespectful; I have a lot to cover.

 

Today in the Assembly, or indeed at Thursday's Committee meeting, we were never going to be able to get to the bottom of all the allegations that were made in the TV programme.  It has left a lot of fundamentally important questions to be addressed by this House.  I believe that this is, perhaps, the biggest scandal, outside of what might be called political issues, to affect this Assembly.

 

The way in which we hold ourselves to account in this institution will be a big test of our integrity.  It is a very important matter of public confidence, which is why I support the call for the Minister to step aside, not least — and I put this to him directly on Thursday — because of his current responsibilities in relation to the reform and possible replacement of the Housing Executive.  The public's confidence in the Minister being in charge of that very important work would leave a lot to be desired.  He should step aside for his own benefit and that of his party, but more importantly for the sake of public confidence in these institutions.

 

I want to put on record that I said to the Minister that there were questions to be answered.  I put it to him directly at a meeting in his office in this Building, in the company of his Department's permanent secretary and a range of other officials, including his special adviser, that he was fundamentally wrong in attending a meeting of Red Sky's outgoing management — people who had basically been found guilty of fraud involving public money.  I told him that it was untenable for the Minister to attend that meeting with members of a company who had been found guilty and who were, at the time, lobbying the Minister to be allowed to retain the contract while they attempted to buy over the company.  I actually said to the Minister that he was on very thin ice.  Obviously, that raises a big question that has not been addressed.  I will carefully scrutinise the Minister's comments on 'The View', his comments at the Committee meeting last Thursday and his comments here today.  There are fundamental questions to be answered by the Minister, his adviser and his party.  The Minister totally exonerated his special adviser.  That is fine, and I cannot contradict him, but his party leader did not have the same confidence.  That leaves a public confidence deficit.  Go raibh maith agat.

 

Mr Weir: One of the questions in many people's mind today is this:  why are we holding a special sitting for this motion?  Ostensibly, if you were to take the motion at face value, it calls for an inquiry into the 'Spotlight' allegations.  Yet, that cannot be the reason for the Assembly reconvening because, as mentioned by the previous Member to speak, the Chairperson of the Committee for Social Development, not only do we as a party fully support a full inquiry but the Social Development Committee unanimously voted for a full inquiry before this sitting was convened.  So we have a motion calling for something that will already happen.  We might as well table a motion saying that the Twelfth should be on a Friday this year or that Christmas will come, because that would have the same import as what has been tabled.

 

Mr Beggs: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Weir: I will give way briefly.

 

Mr Beggs: If this is not an important sitting, why the petition of concern?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an extra minute.

 

Mr Weir: I will come to that in a moment.

 

Mr P Robinson: Will my colleague give way?

 

Mr Weir: Yes.

 

Mr P Robinson: I wonder why the Member raises such a question.  On several occasions, that question has been raised by Members.  When I sought to intervene to answer, they refused to give way.  The answer is obvious:  the motion would restrict the remit of the Social Development Committee, whereas the amendment would ensure that it does exactly what the Chairperson of that Committee said, which I welcome, namely examine all the issues.  The DUP amendment allows the Committee to examine all the issues, whereas the motion limits and restricts what it can look at.

 

Mr Allister: The party comes first.  That is the answer.

 

Mr Weir: The Member is making comments from a sedentary position.  I turn briefly to his position.  Honest Jim Allister tabled his amendment.  He is a man who revels in due process and ensuring that people have a fair trial.  Yet, what is the import of his proposal?  Instead of having an investigation, it wants us to go straight to the execution of Nelson McCausland.  He has become judge, jury and executioner in one go.

 

One notes that he is a very learned gentleman, with many years at the Bar, and he is not short in telling us that on many occasions.  On this occasion, however, he seems to have moved beyond any inquiry or investigation and to have gone straight to the position of accusing Nelson McCausland and calling on him to resign without bothering to go through any of the evidence in front of us.

 

At least that is a more honest position than that taken in the motion.  If the motion is not about an inquiry, it must be purely about point scoring and an opportunity to create a kangaroo court in which to try the Minister.  I welcome the remarks of the Chairperson, who said that a full range of issues will be covered by the inquiry.  I hope that that vigorous range will incorporate the issues in our amendment.  That is why we tabled a petition of concern:  what is in front of us has far too narrow an agenda.

 

A number of Members mentioned wanting to have the fullest possible inquiry into these issues.  I completely agree with them.  That is why Members should back our amendment, which says that the inquiry should deal with all the issues in front of us.  Indeed, a number of Members said that any evidence of corruption or fraudulent activity should be brought before the police.  Again, I completely agree with that.  That is dealt with directly in our amendment but is sadly lacking in the amendment from Mr Allister and the substantive motion.  So, if Members are genuine in their motivation for wanting the police to be involved in investigating allegations of corruption, they should back our amendment.

 

Similarly, the problems in the Housing Executive have been going on for a number of years.  At various stages, I noticed the SDLP leader becoming very agitated.  He wanted to set the record straight, presumably about the actions or otherwise of his party Members when in office.  I think that it is perfectly fair that he wants to do so.

 

Dr McDonnell: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Weir: Sorry, I only have a limited amount of time.  Let me make an offer — [Interruption.] Clearly, Mr Speaker, I am not giving way.  If the Member —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  I remind Members that Members who have the Floor decide whether they want to give away the Floor.  Let us be absolutely clear.

 

Mr Weir: The Member is quite agitated in wanting to set the record straight with regards the SDLP.  I think that that is a perfectly reasonable position.  However, if the Member can show good reason why the SDLP either took various actions or failed to take actions, let him do it in an inquiry.  Let us widen the scope of the inquiry to look at what other Ministers have done as well.  If the Member has no fear of anything being swept under the carpet, let him today back our amendment and ensure that this is not just a witch-hunt against one Minister.  We should not have any degree of cover up.  Consequently, I believe that it needs to be looked at. 

 

Similarly, we need to look at the other companies involved, and mention has been made of that.  That seemed to be dismissed, particularly by Mr Durkan, as a mere trifle.  Yet the forensic examination has suggested that we are talking about somewhere in the region of £18 million.  I think that any investigation has got to look at what has happened within the Housing Executive.  I have to say, it is hard to divorce the role of Mr Brian Rowntree from this —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr Weir: — who was there for nine years.  I urge Members, if they are genuinely interested in a full inquiry, to back our amendment to ensure that all the issues are properly inquired.

 

Mr McKay: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I will speak in favour of the motion. 

 

I listened to the Social Development Committee on Friday.  At that meeting, the Minister stated that the Housing Executive was reviewing the double-glazing spec long before his meeting with Turkington's, and he tried to distance himself from that process, but the evidence says otherwise.  The Housing Executive review was into the method of installation of windows, not the specifications.  The Minister met Turkington's on 16 April.  Turkington's raised the issues of replastering and hinges.  The Minister then sent a letter to John McPeake, chief executive of the Housing Executive, a couple of weeks later on 30 April.  I will read what he requested:

 

"I would ask you to rigorously review your entire glazing specification, especially the requirement to remove and replaster around frames, thus necessitating payment of redecoration grants and the standards set down for hinges and handles."

 

So Turkington's raised two issues with the Minister and then the Minister asked the Housing Executive to review the same two issues.  That sounds like a request directly from the Minister, as a result of that meeting, to review specifications.

 

Mr McGlone: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr McKay: Briefly.

 

Mr McGlone: I thank the Member for giving way.  That is interesting.  I would count that as an operational matter.  Last Tuesday, you were part of the delegation that met a number of subcontractors.  The Minister refused to meet those subcontractors because it was about Housing Executive operational matters.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has a minute added to his time.

 

Mr McKay: Thanks, a Cheann Comhairle.  I totally agree with the Member.  It seems that two different sets of standards are being applied to two different companies. 

 

Turkington's never made or supplied a window to the Housing Executive.  Yet here it was, having the ear of the Minister above everybody else.  Without any consultation with any other company involved in the installation of windows, the Minister asked for a review of the specifications.  He never spoke to any of those who were actually supplying windows to the Housing Executive.  Turkington's came first.  That is quite clear.  This was a decision that was to the commercial benefit of one company and to the detriment of those that had secured the work.

 

Mr Copeland: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr McKay: I will not take any more interventions. 

 

This was about reviewing multimillion pound contracts with a view to opening them up to friends of the DUP.  The Minister says that he met the Glass and Glazing Federation in April 2012.  The Glass and Glazing Federation is not aware of that meeting.  A former Turkington's employee who was there said that the meeting was with Turkington's.  I have here the letter requesting the meeting.  This is the letter.  It does not say the Glass and Glazing Federation.  It does not say Fusion21.  It says Turkington Holdings Limited, in bold writing.  So the Minister was under no illusion that the letter was from Turkington's or that the meeting that was requested — by the way, this was cc'd to the Finance Minister for some reason — was with Turkington's of Portadown.

 

1.15 pm

 

Of course, there was a draft letter that was to be sent to the Chair of the Committee for Social Development.  It originally stated the truth that the Minister had met with Turkington's, but that letter was carefully edited to remove any reference to Turkington's.  The final letter stated that he had met the Glass and Glazing Federation and Fusion21 and refers to it as a single meeting and not two meetings.  There was never a single meeting between the Minister, Fusion21 and the Glass and Glazing Federation.  That is a total and absolute falsehood.  That is how the Committee was misled.  The question is:  why did the Minister mislead the Committee, Members of the Assembly and this institution?  He clearly wanted to throw the Committee for Social Development off the scent.  He clearly wanted to mislead Members of the House.  He clearly wanted to hide the fact that he was meeting Turkington's and that, as a result of that meeting, he reviewed a scheme worth millions of pounds.  That is fairly serious stuff.

 

This is not the first time that there have been connections between a DUP Minister and Turkington's.  In respect of a Tesco store in Newry, the then Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, overruled the planners' objections to push ahead with that development.  Who benefited?  Turkington's.  How much money has Turkington's spent on bankrolling the DUP?

 

Mr Clarke: Not as much as the Northern Bank on you.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr McKay: It is quite clear from how animated some DUP Members are getting that Ulster's gombeen men have been caught with their snouts in the trough once again.  This episode stinks of corruption; the public know it.  The Minister should stand down.  He should stand aside while these allegations are investigated.  The House wants that.  The majority of Members in the House want the Minister to stand aside.  The public want it.  He should heed those calls.

 

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Alex Attwood. [Interruption.] Order.

 

Mr Attwood: On all these occasions, it is what people do not say that is most revealing.  We will hear what the Minister has to say.  However, in the debate so far, no DUP Member has explained, defended or commented on the activities of Mr McCausland's SpAd.  There has been no explanation, defence or comment over what happened with the Turkington's business.  In fact, you get the sense that the name of the SpAd and the name of Turkington dare not cross the lips of the DUP.  You wonder why.

 

Whatever way you slice and dice this, and whatever diversion tactics have been heard this afternoon and will no doubt be heard over the next number of weeks, this comes down to a fundamental issue.  It is a fundamental issue about the relationship between one party and business, commercial and development interests.  That is what this debate is about.  That goes to the very heart, character and nature of the democracy that we struggled for so long to achieve at such a price and delay.  Whatever the pressure that the DUP puts on one of its own members, whatever about the flurry of legal letters, and whatever about the petition of concern, which is the DUP's own version of refusing to recognise the court of the Assembly and of public opinion, let us never lose sight of what this issue is really about.

 

Let us look at the responsibility of a SpAd.  The SpAd code states:

 

"It is important that there is public confidence in the individuals who are appointed ... otherwise there is a risk of reputational damage."

 

It states that special advisers are subject to general Northern Ireland Civil Service codes, including standards of conduct and codes of ethics.  It states:

 

"Special Advisers must not take part in the work of their party’s national organisation".

 

The question is:  did the SpAd act unilaterally?  Was he out of control, or was he very much under the control, if not of the Minister for Social Development, of those who sit in those ranks or of 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.  We need to know.

 

I want to read in to the record, Mr Speaker, how far the DUP will go to defend those who it thinks are worthy of some sort of defence.  In doing so, let me make it very clear that there has been no public body in the lifetime of the restoration of this Assembly that has been subject to more interrogation, scrutiny, robust investigation, and so on and so forth, than the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.  That was not easy — [Interruption.] That was not straightforward — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member has the Floor.

 

Mr Attwood: In one way, that was not straightforward, because whatever the ills and wrongs of the Housing Executive, it has served this part of the world and hundreds and thousands of our families and citizens well.  However, let me also make it very clear that it lost its way and badly lost its way.  That is why, during my time and the time of my predecessor, there was interrogation of the affairs of the Housing Executive like never before.  That was reported to the Committee and to this Chamber— [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

Mr Attwood: — but what does the DUP do around all this?  It rushes to protect those who were indicted by the Housing Executive board and by independent inquiry.  In rushing to their defence, at a sensitive time in this city, where there is rioting in east Belfast by the UVF and graffiti on the walls in east Belfast about people who have already been told to leave their house, the First Minister at an Executive meeting says:

 

"This decision had a sectarian background with a nationalist Minister and a nationalist Chair."

 

Does that not tell you all that you need to know —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is gone.

 

Mr Attwood: — about the view of some — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Attwood: — but not many in this Chamber? [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Hussey: It is with mixed emotions that I rise to speak.  I have sadness at the damage that is being done to the reputation of this institution.  I have sympathy for some of the people caught up in this, such as Councillor Jenny Palmer, whose integrity remains intact as far as I am concerned.  I have anger at the apparent arrogance of some who seem to believe that they can play down the seriousness of these allegations and try to deflect blame elsewhere.  I have disbelief that the DUP has again flaunted any sense of ethics by abusing a petition of concern to ensure that the motion cannot be passed.  Quite why it wants to block the Assembly from voting in favour of an investigation into Nelson McCausland is beyond me.  The use of this mechanism today serves only to reinforce that the DUP, and the Social Development Minister in particular, have something to hide.

 

The House will be aware that I participated in the 'Spotlight' —

 

Mr Wilson: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Hussey: I will not give way. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Hussey: Mr Speaker, I will not be bullied by this party, like Mrs Palmer was, so I will carry on.  The bully-boy tactics, Mr Speaker — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member must be heard.  The Member has the Floor.

 

Mr Hussey: Thank you, Mr Speaker.  The bully-boy tactics that these people are attempting today are exactly what they were doing to Mrs Palmer.

 

The House will be aware that I participated in the 'Spotlight' programme, and one of the most shocking aspects of that was the video that I was shown of the DUP councillor Jenny Palmer.  I saw a lot more of her reaction than that which was used in the programme.  Despite the fire and brimstone raining down on her from her party, it is my belief that she stood firm and acted with honesty and integrity.  She explained how she refused to be bullied into voting against the cancellation of the Red Sky contract, despite pressure from the Minister's special adviser.  Why?  Because it was the right thing to do.  I commend her for that because party does not and never should come before the good of the people of Northern Ireland.  That is where the DUP has its profiles all wrong.

 

Of course, questions still remain over this phone call.  For example, on whose authority was the Minister's special adviser acting?  He is employed by the Minister, so we assume that he was directed by the Minister.  Alternatively, was he directed by the party?  Whether he acted alone or on the instruction of others, allegations of political interference have been made, and the evidence is clearly there from the DUP's dissenting councillor.

 

Before I move on, I want to praise Councillor Palmer for her strength of conviction, and I quote directly from her own words, printed in Friday's 'News Letter':

 

“I couldn’t sleep at night because I knew that what had been done was wrong and I expect better from people, especially when they are charged with the governance of Northern Ireland.  For two years I have been tortured by what was being played out in a political arena; I didn’t like it and I thought it was wrong — that’s the reason I spoke out.”

 

Councillor Palmer is one of the most decent DUP people.  Everyone in the House should praise her for what she did. 

 

We have heard a lot, today, about the meeting between Red Sky, the Social Development Minister and the other DUP representatives.  The old saying is that "A red sky in the morning is a shepherd's warning".  Some of these people paid no attention to the warning.  We also know that, at that meeting, the Minister stated that his preferred option was to extend Red Sky's contract, despite his knowledge of its part in overpayment for work.  I want to make a point about that.  The extension of Red Sky's contract might have allowed the company Totalis Solutions — Red Sky in disguise, should I say — to have become fully constituted in time to bid for the imminent tender of Housing Executive contracts.  By that stage, all the other contractors might have been implicated in the overpayments scandal.  Hypothetically, the end result could have been that the way was paved for Totalis Solutions to bid successfully for those Housing Executive contracts as the only clean company.

 

Mr Newton: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Hussey: No, I will not.

 

If there is any semblance of truth in that, the Minister should be ashamed.  It seems to me that the meetings that took place with Red Sky were highly political in nature.  If not, why was only the DUP involved?  I am aware that departmental officials even raised concerns at some of the meetings about their own involvement.  That shows how uneasy they were.  I want a reassurance that the investigation being carried out by the Social Development Committee will seek a copy of the recording and copies of all the documents that the journalists had. 

 

I also make the point that, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I believe that various documents should have been made available to us but were not.  I base that assertion on documents that I was shown during the recording of the 'Spotlight' programme.  There was clearly an element of secrecy throughout. 

 

I conclude by saying this: despite the petition of concern today, further investigations will take place.  The DSD will conduct its own inquiry, and I, too, agree that the Minister should stand aside.

 

Mr B McCrea: One might have thought that the allegations of sleaze, corruption and profiteering might have provoked a united response from the Executive because, make no mistake, the programme was very damaging for the body politic.  Certainly, I suspect that, if this was in Westminster or the Dáil, the Prime Minister or the Taoiseach would have moved with some speed to reassure the public that all was well with politics.  You might even have heard the offer of some resignations or at least an offer to stand aside while we try to improve things and prove to the people that we actually care about what they think.  At the very least, we would have expected some form of agreed independent review — something that would genuinely say to the people, "We are going to do things better".  Not here.  It does not seem to matter what the people think.  We will go our own way.  We will try to do our own thing.  We are even going to introduce a petition of concern to stop such a review.

 

In the normal course of events, I would have wanted to ask the Minister a few pertinent questions.  Why did he have a meeting with the directors of Red Sky, not the administrators?  Why would anybody want to give the directors of a firm that had been found guilty of poor performance and serious overcharging a second chance?  Why would you want to do that?  Why would you not accept the view of a DUP councillor sitting on the board that the decision to terminate was made not for sectarian reasons but after proper investigation?  Surely, that person would have had the inside track and would have informed the Minister's thinking.

 

I would also like to ask why the Minister sat on the report for over a year.  Perhaps the most telling thing, which Mr Allister brought up, is this: why did he stop the double glazing contract?

 

1.30 pm

 

Mr McCausland (The Minister for Social Development): On a point of order.  In view of the fact that the report did not sit on my desk for a year but, rather, sat for most of that year on the desk of the Housing Executive, is it right for the Member to mislead the House?

 

Mr Speaker: On the point of order that Mr McCausland has raised, the Minister now has it on the record.  The Minister will have the job of replying to the debate.

 

Mr B McCrea: I am happy to carry on asking questions.  No doubt, some will get answers. 

 

The most important point, as brought out by Mr Allister, is why the Minister stopped the double glazing contract.  What role did the meeting with Turkington's play?  Why did you suggest that it was as a result of the Glass and Glazing Federation and Fusion21?  All those things come together to say that those answers are demanded.  It does not look good, and you should address the issue.

 

There are many questions that I would like to ask, but the introduction of a petition of concern rather changes the nature of the debate.  This is indeed a constitutional crisis, not because of the matter in hand, although that is serious enough, but because of our obvious inability to deal with it and hold the Government to account.  As things stand, it appears that the most effective oversight lies with the BBC.  Apparently, only it has the means to investigate things independently.

 

Mr McCallister: I am grateful to the Member for giving way.  I assume that he is not buying into the First Minister's argument that the petition of concern was introduced merely to assist the Committee in its deliberations.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute.

 

Mr B McCrea: That is a really interesting point.  It was news to me when the First Minister said that we had misunderstood and they were introducing a petition of concern to help us all.  Did you ever hear anything more ridiculous? [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member must be heard.

 

Mr B McCrea: Well, let us try this: did you ever hear anything more arrogant and self-serving than the braying of the people on the other side [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order. The Member must be heard, but the Member should not point across the Chamber.

 

Mr B McCrea: Mr Speaker, I take your admonishment and trust that you will provide the protection necessary for me to make my points.  The points will be made whether you like it or not.

 

It is not a good position for the Assembly to appear to be ineffective.  If the democratic process appears to be irrelevant, if democracy itself fails and if the ordinary man and woman on the street looks at this place and says that the Government are not acting in the common good, then other, more sinister, elements will take charge.  That is not good for democracy.

 

Let us look at how the debate is conducted.  Some of it is entirely predictable.  The DUP will circle the wagons, confident that nobody will land a punch on them, happy to play the sectarian card if necessary.  Sinn Féin will take the opportunity to embarrass the DUP but will not expose them.  They will not bring down the Government for they are their partners.  As I look at the UUP, let us not kid ourselves that they will really get in and attack when what they want is an electoral pact.  This is not the way to have any form of oversight of this business.  That will not happen.  What we need in this place — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr B McCrea: — is a complete reform of the institutions of government — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order, order.

 

Mr B McCrea: You cannot leave it — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr B McCrea: You cannot leave it — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr B McCrea: — to the BBC — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member must be heard.  Order.

 

Mr B McCrea: You cannot leave it to the BBC to provide the proper and necessary democratic alternative.  There are people and parties in the House that really need to consider their position.  This is not the way it was meant to be.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr B McCrea: This place needs an alternative, and I call on those people to look to opposition — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr B McCrea: — and give the people of Northern Ireland what they want.

 

Mr Poots: Is has been an interesting debate so far.  It is interesting to see that Mr Allister is jumping into bed — the political bed, I should say — with the Colombian butterfly hunter and those who robbed the Northern Bank.  I will not take lectures on probity or integrity — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Poots: — from that side of the House.  The issue that is here today — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Poots: — and the issue that Mr Allister did not want to discuss was corruption — not Mr McCausland but corruption.  When I came into office at DCAL, I found corruption in the Northern Ireland Events Company.  There have been allegations of corruption in the Fire Service, the Northern Trust and the Housing Executive.  Corruption was endemic in many areas of government prior to devolution, and many of us are working to uncover it.  Our amendment is best placed to uncover corruption generally, and Members do not want to go down that route.  One has to ask "Why?".  Why is the focus on Nelson McCausland, not on corruption?  Corruption is what is wrong, and that is what needs to be dealt with.

 

In my opinion, Nelson McCausland is one of the politicians least susceptible to corruption.  I cannot really imagine him sipping champagne on a yacht on the French Riviera in his spare time.  Do you want to know what Nelson does in his spare time?  He is at the Linen Hall Library or Belfast Central Library looking up the work of some obscure Presbyterian clergyman.  Nelson is not in the least bit corrupt. I will certainly not take any information from Sinn Féin on that point when it has "Gerry Armani" jetting off in first class across the Atlantic for private healthcare.  Who paid for that?  We all want to know, but we never get the answer. 

 

The problem that we have with Red Sky —

 

Mr Clarke: I thank the Minister for giving way.  The Minister is surely not suggesting that it would not have been covered by Gerry's industrial wage.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member is speaking as a Member of the House, not as Minister.

 

Mr Poots: I suspect, given the cost associated with private healthcare, that it was not covered by Gerry's industrial wage.  Healthcare in Northern Ireland or in the Republic of Ireland was not good enough for Mr Adams. 

 

The issue is the misappropriation of money and corruption.  Red Sky has been talked about a lot, but the work was transferred to other companies, including PK Murphy, a company that had inappropriately taken about six times as much money out of the system as Red Sky.  The issue for this party was not that Red Sky should lose the contract but that it was given to others who were misappropriating public money.  That does not seem to be an issue for anyone else in the House.  That, very clearly, is a problem.

 

Mr Campbell: I thank the Member for giving way briefly.  Does the Member find it interesting, as I do, that, after I had read from the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, which concluded that there were problems going back to 2010, the Member who was then Minister for Social Development did not refer for one second of his five-minute contribution to his tenure there?  Why?

 

Mr Poots: I thank the Member for his intervention.  Wednesday night's 'Spotlight' was on Nelson McCausland, but the spotlight today is turning to the SDLP.  One possible reason why 'Spotlight' on Wednesday night did not focus on the corruption that was endemic in the Housing Executive is that, apparently, one of the people on the production team is the son of an SDLP councillor.  If I am wrong, perhaps the SDLP would like to correct me. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member must be heard.

 

Mr Poots: That said, I have known Mrs Palmer for a long time.  I find her an honourable lady, I respect her and I hold her and her family in high regard.  For a very long time, Mrs Palmer has been deeply concerned about Rinmore and the SDLP's political interference there.  It all started when Margaret Ritchie was Minister, and multi-element improvement (MEI) schemes did not take place because she was focused solely on newbuilds.  In order to have an MEI scheme carried out in that part of Foyle, an SDLP-dominated constituency, she wanted a transfer to one housing association — free, gratis.  She wanted to ignore the corporate governance that should have taken place.  She wanted to get work done that was not available anywhere else in Northern Ireland, and she wanted it to be done in a place that was fifteenth on the list for such work.  She wanted to do it surreptitiously.  When Mr Attwood came into office, it did not stop there.  Prior to a board meeting of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, just before the election, Mr Attwood rang Mr Brian Rowntree and told him that he had to get this through the board meeting because he was announcing it that day.  If we are talking about political interference in the inner workings of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the finger points very clearly back to the SDLP, which ignored the £18 million of public money that was lost.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time has almost gone.

 

Mr Poots: It did not take the actions to ensure that that money was not lost.  The SDLP is guilty of ensuring that a multiple of over 10 times of what Red Sky lost was taken out of the Northern Ireland economy —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member's time has gone.

 

Mr Poots: — and misappropriated to companies fraudulently.

 

Mr McCausland: Let me start by making it clear that, in making my decisions, my primary concern at all times from my appointment as Minister to now has been to ensure that the services provided by the Housing Executive give the best possible value for money to taxpayers and the best possible service to tenants.  At all times, I have sought in every way to carry out my duties with the utmost integrity and probity.  I also assure you that I have never sought to influence the award of any contract to any company.  Indeed, I do not even have any role in the tendering and letting process for any contracts.  I do not see any of the documents; I do not know who has tendered; and, until an announcement is made, I do not know who has been selected.  Nor should I.  This, as I have always advised, is entirely an operational matter for the Housing Executive.

 

My position in relation to the termination of the Red Sky Group contract by the Housing Executive in July 2011 has been a matter of public record for some time.  Shortly after taking up office in May 2011, I expressed my concerns about contract management, both on foot of briefing on the governance review findings carried out in 2010 and on the issues leading to the termination of the Red Sky Group contract in July 2011.  Although there has been a great deal of speculation and innuendo that I sought either to extend the contract with the Red Sky Group or to assign the contract to a new company, that was not the case.  Any examination of the correspondence between me and the then chairman of the Housing Executive, which is already in the public domain, makes that abundantly clear.

 

One of the key issues made in the 'Spotlight' programme and constantly brought up since is the reference to the meeting that I attended with Red Sky representatives on 27 June 2011.  Much inference was made about that meeting based on the fact that it was with Red Sky representatives and that the administrators and the Housing Executive were not at the meeting.  The minutes of the meeting have also been open to misinterpretation.  Let me address that matter up front, because it is wholly incorrect.  Inferences have been drawn from the meeting that have fuelled much of the debate.  I meet many companies and individuals in relation to many issues.  My role as Minister is to make myself available to serve all the people of Northern Ireland.  That is a key part of my role and responsibilities as Minister in order to discharge the duties of my office.  Let me be clear on my position in relation to that meeting, as it is at the core of the accusations being made against me.  Before the meeting took place, legal advice was sought from the departmental solicitors.  I sought that advice in the light of the fact that I was being asked to meet individuals from a company in administration, and I wanted to be assured of the probity of my actions.  It advised me that Ministers may meet such persons as they choose.  It cannot be any clearer than that.

 

Much has also been made about the fact that the Housing Executive and the administrators were not at the meeting.  Let me be clear on the facts around that: the Housing Executive was advised about the meeting beforehand.  Indeed, the Housing Executive provided me with briefing on the current situation and sought information from the administrators for that.  At the meeting, some information was discussed that neither I nor my officials were aware of.  As a result, one of the officials actually left the meeting briefly and rang the Housing Executive to seek further information.  Indeed, the minutes of the meeting refer to this.  Also not referred to is the fact that, right at the end of the minutes, it clearly states that attendees were informed that:

 

“the proper route for the consideration of contractual matters is between the Housing Executive and the Administrator”.

 

So, taking all that into account, how could this be considered, as portrayed and implied by 'Spotlight', a secretive or shady meeting?  It was all above board.

 

1.45 pm

 

Of equal importance are my subsequent actions following the meeting.  In that respect, I refer Members to the detailed correspondence in the PAC report, 'Northern Ireland Housing Executive: Management of Response Maintenance Contracts', which was published in March this year.  Indeed, some of the contributors to the programme — Mr Hussey and, I think, Mr McKay — served on the PAC.  So, those folks should be well aware of all of that correspondence.  That is all a matter of public record.

 

I single out in particular my letter to the then chairman on 7 July, which makes it clear that I believed the most appropriate way forward was for an open procurement exercise for the Red Sky Group contracts to be undertaken rather than automatic assignment to adjacent contractors.  This was subject to the administrator being able to provide assurance that those contracts could be serviced until such an exercise could be undertaken.  When the Housing Executive advised that the administrator could provide services only until the end of July and that, thereafter, it was intended that the company would be sold and, from that date, the service could be provided only by a new company and it would take in the region of four months for an open procurement exercise, I confirmed to the then chairman that the Housing Executive should proceed with the termination of the Red Sky Group contracts and reassign those contracts.  This was not an ideal situation.  I would have preferred an open competition as I was concerned that the contractual failings were not limited to one company.  However, the fact of the matter was that this was the only practical way to ensure the continued provision of services to tenants.

 

I find all this conjecture extraordinary, bearing in mind that the Red Sky contract was already — sorry — actually terminated.  The ASM report that I commissioned barely gets a mention.  Indeed, some people took the report and dismissed it almost as an irrelevance.  That report, however, is hugely important because it truly vindicates the position that I took in July 2011.  It confirms that I was right to have concerns.  The findings in this report were, in my view, all the more alarming, since the failings identified in the ASM report post-dated the work that the NIHE had already done on the Red Sky Group contracts.  How can I be accused of not being open and transparent when I have made this investigation report available to the Assembly website and have published it on my Department’s website?

 

Mr Durkan: Will the Minister give way?

 

Mr McCausland: No.

 

'Spotlight' does not appear to understand my role as Minister —

 

Mr Durkan: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

 

Mr McCausland: — particularly with regard to the stewardship of public funds.

 

Mr Speaker: A point of order from Mr Durkan.

 

Mr Durkan: Thank you, Mr Speaker.  The version of the ASM report that has appeared on the DSD website is heavily redacted.  I put that to the Minister in Committee on Thursday.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Durkan: It is a —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  I ask the Member to take his seat.  I know that it happens from time to time, but, if the Member is not prepared to give way, let us not try to get a point of order on the same issue.  Let us move on.

 

Mr McCausland: There are, indeed, redactions in that report for commercial reasons — there are certain figures that are not put out there — but anybody who reads it is bound to conclude that it is a pretty damning report.  It was the report that the SDLP did not want carried out, because it looked at all the other companies.  I will return to why the SDLP might not have wanted that in due course.

 

'Spotlight' did not appear to understand my role as Minister, particularly with regard to the stewardship of public funds.  Nor did it recognise the work that I have personally carried out to ensure the implementation of the Programme for Government target for the double glazing programme, bearing in mind that I took up office in May 2011 and immediately raised the issue with my officials in June 2011 and have been working on it ever since.

 

I have been accused of breaching the ministerial code, an accusation that I totally reject.  Throughout this process, my position and role in this has always been a matter of public record.  Serious issues have been identified with contract management in the Housing Executive.  Those issues impact on value for money and services to tenants.  They are matters that I have devoted considerable time to uncovering and addressing.

 

There is much work to be done, and I am determined to see it through for the sake of tenants, for the sake of taxpayers and for the sake of the Housing Executive.  That is right: I did say "the Housing Executive".  I want it to be an organisation and a landlord that staff and tenants can be proud of and one that is ready for the new era in housing that my housing strategy and reform proposals put forward.

 

Members have raised points that I want to deal with.  The first is this: the Chairman of the Social Development Committee will confirm that, indeed, I did not have to be summoned to any Committee; I volunteered to go, and I wanted to go.  I welcomed the opportunity, just as I welcome — even though it is rather a pointless exercise in some ways because there is already going to be an inquiry — the opportunity to clarify matters today.

 

I look forward to a full and comprehensive investigation of matters relating to Housing Executive contractors.  Unlike others, we do not turn a blind eye to these things; we will look at the whole picture.  That is why I initiated the ASM report.  It was important that we looked at this across the board.

 

I want to pick up on the issue of the telephone call that was made on 1 July 2011.  It would have been wrong, I believe, and remiss of the special adviser if he had not sought to explain to a member of the board with whom he had contact — it was a short, eight-minute conversation — some understanding of the broader context of all this.  Already, at that point, it was abundantly clear that wrongdoing was not restricted to one contractor or, indeed, to one Housing Executive district.

 

We know that, because already, a year previously, under the SDLP it was becoming clear that there were concerns in the Housing Executive about a second contractor.  You do not need to be a genius to work out that, if more than one contractor is involved — there were concerns a year earlier about that —  and more than one Housing Executive district involved, it starts to become clear that this was something endemic and systemic in the whole process in relation to contracts.  Yet, when I spoke to the chairman of the Housing Executive at a meeting and when he subsequently responded to me in writing, he assured me that "We have really robust systems in the Housing Executive.  We can stand over things because we are very robust in the way we do things".

 

In fact, at an earlier meeting, which is mentioned in the PAC report, the then acting chief executive, Mr Stewart Cuddy, assured those present that the Housing Executive closely monitors all its contractors.  It monitors them so closely that the current chairman has to come before the media to say, "Well, actually, we have now carried out a review, and there may be as much as £18 million overpaid on planned maintenance contracts."  So you have a situation in which the acting chief executive at the time said, "We closely monitor", with implication that, "We can stand over this".  It then emerges that £18 million was overpaid in planned maintenance on top of the overpayments and the irregular payments for response maintenance.  Clearly, the problem is much more widespread than one company:  it was endemic in the structures and the systems.  It was right and proper that that information was imparted to a member of the board.

 

The issue of the other contractor being suspected started in May 2010 under Alex Attwood.  The Housing Executive became aware of issues then, yet that contractor was kept on to the very end of its contract, which terminated on 1 August 2012.  Whether it was right or wrong in that, that confirms that the Housing Executive was aware that the problem involved more than one company and that it was in more than one district.

 

Red Sky, according to ASM, received overpayments of around £1 million.  Those contracts were then transferred to three other companies, which were the adjacent companies.  It now emerges that the recipient of a substantial part of that work was one of the companies that was named in relation to the £18 milllion.  So you take work away from a company to which there has been an overpayment of £1 million and you give it to another company to which there has been a far bigger overpayment in relation to planned maintenance.  The question that I would ask is whether that makes good sense, but that is the route that we were being taken down.

 

One of the biggest recipients was P K Murphy; P K Murphy was one of the companies associated with the £18 million.  That is an estimated figure, but whatever final figure emerges, it is a substantial amount.  It would not matter whether it was £16 million or £15 million; it is still big money in anybody's terms.  That company was one of the recipients of the Red Sky contracts.

 

On the question of payments by staff of a contractor to the Housing Executive, if that sort of thing was happening with one contractor, I wonder where else it was happening.  Let me say clearly that wherever there has been wrongdoing, that wrongdoing needs to be dealt with.

 

I want to touch quickly on the issue of specifications for windows.  I came into the Department in May 2011.  In June 2011, I raised the issue of double glazing with officials in the Department.  Why?  Because constituents had raised it with me, just as they had with many other people here, asking, "Why are we, as social tenants, living in houses that do not have double glazing?"  It was clear to me by October 2011 that the Housing Executive was already reviewing specifications.  That is something that it does regularly.  It previously reviewed the specification in 2006.  In 2006, it identified a particular hinge, which is available only from one producer in Scandinavia and which is supplied to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive by somebody in Dublin.  When you make specifications so precise that you can have only one hinge and your suppliers are restricted to one company, that raises the question for me as to whether it is good practice.

 

The issue of Housing Executive specification for windows had also been dealt with during a performance review meeting in December 2011.  In other words, six months before the meeting with the Glass and Glazing Federation, all of this matter was already under review by the Housing Executive.

 

Mr Attwood: Will the Member give way?

 

2.00 pm

 

Mr McCausland: No, I will not because I am nearly out of time, and others have refused to give way.

 

There are issues here of significant substance.  With regards to the meeting with Red Sky, as it was, and the meeting with another contractor, over the two years that I have been in the Department, I have met a range of businesspeople, from Northern Ireland, Great Britain or wherever.  I am quite happy to deal with all those issues.

 

Mr McCausland: I just want to finally, in the last few seconds, say this:  with regards to the issue of Fusion21, the details of the initial meeting were set out in an Assembly question for written answer in September 2012.  After the meeting, which looked at the issue of procurement — there is a minor error, which I will in due course correct, with regards to the grammar and detail of that response — the fact is this: Fusion21 then contacted my officials about the double-glazing programme.

 

Mr Speaker: The Minister's time is almost gone.

 

Mr McCausland: They were rightly told that an NIHE contract would be put out to procurement and to contact the Housing Executive.  That is what they did, because it is the Housing Executive that deals in operational matters with all those contracts.

 

Mr Allister: We have just heard from the Minister for 20 minutes, on top of his 54 minutes to the Committee.  It is very significant that he left to the very end the issue of Turkington, so that it appears that he ran out of time.  However, here is the kernel of the matter, as far as this House is concerned, as to whether it has been misled through what was told to the Committee.  It is abundantly clear that the representations about the hinges came from a window company; Turkington Holdings.  It is abundantly clear that the meeting was a meeting with Turkington Holdings.  It was not a meeting with the Glass and Glazing Federation, which has denied —

 

Mr McCausland: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Allister: No; the Minister did not show any such generosity when he was speaking.

 

It is abundantly clear that it was not a meeting with the Glass and Glazing Federation.  It has said that it knew nothing about it.  Mr Young, who was there representing Turkington's, has gone on record to say that it had nothing to do with the Glass and Glazing Federation.  It was a Turkington meeting.  The Housing Executive folk who were there said that it had nothing to do with that issue.  In the minutes, DSD officials say all that.

 

Mr McCausland: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

 

Mr Allister: Well, Mr Speaker, I hope that you will give the same admonition —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Allister: — on this focused point of order —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Allister: — as you have on others.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Allow me to chair the proceedings.

 

Mr McCausland: In view of the fact that the official minute of the meeting is very specific and clear and refers to a meeting with the Glass and Glazing Federation in relation to Glass and Glazing Federation guidelines, is the Member in order in constantly misleading, I think, Members of this Assembly?

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Minister has that on record.  Let us move on.

 

Mr Allister: I think the House knows who is in the business of misleading:  the Minister, who wrote a letter to the Committee Chairman saying "after this meeting", referring to a meeting with the Glass and Glazing Federation and Fusion21, when in fact what he had was a meeting with Turkington Holdings, not the federation and not Fusion21.  I think that it is quite clear who is in the business of misleading the House.  That is the kernel of the matter; that a Minister changes the draft of a letter deliberately and purposefully to pull the wool over the Committee's eyes.  That is why my amendment raises the issue of confidence in him.  The question for each Member of this House — apart from the DUP Members, who will put party first, not least because the First Minister is sitting with 37 resignation letters in his pocket if they do not put the party first — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  Is it in order for the Member to deliberately mislead the House?  There are no resignation letters from any of our Members available in my pocket or elsewhere.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Once again, the Member has it on the record.  Let us move on.

 

Mr Allister: I am glad that there has been some relaxation in the totalitarian control that previously operated; that is good.  If the First Minister says that — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member must be heard.

 

Mr Allister: If the First Minister says that, I am sure that, on that issue, he is not misleading the House.

 

I am not appealing to the DUP to do the right thing.  I am saying to other Members of the House: you have heard the Minister, have you got confidence in him?  That is the question for each one of you, and that is the question that will be put in the vote on amendment No 2.  Have you got confidence in him?  You have heard him.  If you do not, the right thing to do is to back amendment No 2, but that is a matter for Members.

 

We have had an interesting range in the debate.  Mr Newton thinks that there is some great importance in photographs.  Well he did not quite produce the DUP family album, but I wonder whether there would be any photographs of dinner parties in the home of Mr Norman Hayes.  I wonder whether there would be any photographs of work done at the homes of members of the DUP.  I wonder whether there would be any photographs of the alleged £27,000-worth of work to partition an office at 141 Holywood Road, which Red Sky charged to the Assembly.  Are there any photographs of that?

 

What is at the heart of this matter is the desperation of the Democratic Unionist Party to cover its tracks in relation to its unhealthy arrangements with commercial interests.  We have seen it in the past.

 

Mr P Robinson: Would the Member like to give way?

 

Mr Allister: I will not give way at this point whatsoever. [Interruption.] We have seen it in the past. [Interruption.] They did not learn from it in the past — [Interruption.] — and it is quite clear that it is not prepared to learn from it now. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member has the Floor.  Order.

 

Mr Allister: If it is in the party interest to court commercial interest — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is gone.

 

Mr Allister: — and if it is in the party interest to court developers, the party will do it because the party comes first.  That is what we have seen in years past. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order, Members.

 

Mr Wilson: The debate has been an interesting one.  We have heard lots of reasons why the DUP has taken the stance that it has and why this motion is before the House today.  The first is that we are trying to block the truth.  Anybody who reads our amendment will see that, rather than blocking the truth, we are seeking the truth. 

 

We have been told that we are trying to divert attention away from our corruption, and there has been no one more diligent and strident in that call than Mr Allister.  I remind Mr Allister that given some of the interventions from the First Minister, he might just want to be very careful.  I think that an Exocet has been launched today that will eventually find its target.  The cant, hypocrisy and pseudo outrage that he is so good at will be blown away once that Exocet reaches its target.  We have no difficulty in explaining what has happened with meetings, etc. 

 

The other and most bizarre claim came from Mr McCrea, which is that, somehow or other, this is the prelude to some political pact between ourselves and the Ulster Unionists.  How you make that connection, I am not so sure.

 

Let us look at what Members have said today.  Mr Durkan wants to make sure that we do not thwart a full investigation.  Mr Allister wants to make sure that we do not divert attention from the real issues.  Mr Maskey wants fundamental questions answered.  Mr Copeland wants a full inquiry.  Mr Hussey, who thinks that an intervention means that you bully him, wants to make sure that there is no blocking of an investigation into the Minister.  Mr McCrea wants to make sure that we agree to a full review.  Which is the only item on the Order Paper that fulfils all those criteria?  It is the amendment to the motion that has been tabled in the name of the DUP.  The motion in the name of the Ulster Unionists, Sinn Féin, Alliance and the SDLP asks only for a full inquiry into the Minister.  Mr Allister has joined Sinn Féin's kangaroo court brigade.  He wants the Minister treated as if he were guilty already.

 

Mr Beggs: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Wilson: I do not have very much time, so I do not want to give way.  Normally, I would give way, and the Member knows that I would.

 

Today, we have a choice between a real inquiry or some kind of political game that is directed towards Nelson McCausland.  That is the choice that we have today:  to get a real inquiry that does all the things that Members said they wanted or else simply get at the DUP.  Of course, the latter is what 'Spotlight' wanted, because it ignored a lot of the issues. 

 

Members have asked why we tabled a petition of concern.  We did so for two reasons.  First, because we wanted to ensure that there is a full inquiry, and, secondly, we will not allow our Minister to be kicked around in some political game either.  Let us make that quite clear.

 

It has been said that there are two issues that we have not addressed.  The first is the meeting with Red Sky and Turkington's.  We were told that there was some kind of cover-up.  A cover-up where there were minutes, where Ministers were briefed, where officials were present, where the outcome was known and where there was no benefit to either of the two companies.  The only thing that happened from the meeting with Turkington's was that it was identified that there was £28·6 million worth of savings on a window contract, which the Housing Executive then agreed may not have been £26 million but was £15·1 million and would go out to tender on that.  There was no attempt to try to force this onto — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Let us not have debate across the Chamber.  Order.

 

Mr Wilson: Members know full well that the procurement process is so tight in Northern Ireland and judicial reviews are so frequent that to have made any attempt to do that would have been absolutely futile anyway.

 

The second issue is why the SpAd did what he did.  The SpAd was living up to his terms and conditions.  The inquiry can find out what exactly was said, but we have the terms and conditions of SpAds that say —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr Wilson: — that it is his job to ensure that the party publicity is factually accurate and consistent, and, to ensure consistency, the Administration will also want to make sure that —

 

Mr Speaker: Time is gone.

 

Mr Wilson: — Assembly Members and officials of the Member's party are briefed on issues of policy.  That is what the job of the SpAd is.  As far as the SpAd is concerned —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member's time is gone.

 

Mr Wilson: Let me just finish.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Wilson: If Members want a full inquiry —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is gone.

 

Mr Wilson: Let them back our amendment today.

 

Some Members: Hear, hear.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: For the avoidance of doubt, I will not be taking interventions from anyone supporting the petition of concern. [Interruption.] It is legal, yes. [Interruption.] You can shout me down.  If that is your vision of democracy, shout away. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Let us have remarks through the Chair.  Order.  Let us not have debate across the Chamber.  Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: It is legal to table a petition of concern, but it is an abuse of democracy.  As Mr Durkan said, you are holding up two fingers to democracy and to the electorate.  Why did you do it?  Because you could.  Not because the party should, but because it could.  It is a bit like Members of Parliament and expenses.  They claimed because they could.  They knew that they should not, but they thought, "I can, so I will", irrespective of the utter carnage delivered to the reputation of the Mother of Parliaments by MPs who did what they could rather than what they should.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Let us not have a debate on MPs' expenses.  Let us get to the motion, and let us stay with the motion. [Interruption.] Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: The DUP brought this petition of concern today because they could, not because they should.  The Chamber, the Assembly and the Executive — the devolved institutions — all suffer, as Mr Dickson made clear.  It is protectionism.  As Councillor Jenny Palmer put it on 'Spotlight', the party comes first, and you do as you are told. 

 

A petition of concern is a protection of politics, not of a political party.  It was designed as a safeguard against sectarian politics.  Interestingly, David Campbell, much maligned by the DUP and former chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, who was an architect and an author of the Belfast Agreement, while you — [Interruption.]

 

2.15 pm

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member must be heard.

 

Mr Nesbitt: With Edwin Poots — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: The Member must be heard.  Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: Mr Campbell, who along with Mr Poots voted for everything that — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: An architect, an author of the Belfast Agreement — something that was signed while the DUP stood rattling the gates and marching its troops up and down Prince of Wales Avenue — said it was a safeguard. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member must be heard.  He is concluding on the motion.  Let us have remarks made through the Chair.

 

Mr Nesbitt: Mr Campbell has written to the Secretary of State to say:

 

"Since the Assembly first sat in 1998 I believe that the Petition of Concern has largely worked as intended" —

 

as a safeguard —

 

"...however, the recent use by the DUP over a potential vote on the alleged actions of the DSD Minister, Nelson McCausland, MLA is a blatant abuse of the procedure.  The petition is to prevent " —

 

Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  The Member has accused you, sir, of being in a position where you have allowed an abuse of the rules of the Assembly.  I think that that is a challenge to your role and position, and you need to make it clear that the petition of concern is in order and quite legitimately has been placed before the House.

 

Mr Speaker: Let me say this: at the outset of the debate, I made it absolutely clear that the petition of concern before us was accurate and was within the Standing Orders of the House.

 

Mr Nesbitt: Thank you for the clarification.  If you check Hansard, you will see that I began by saying that it was legal, lawful proper use.  I am quoting Mr Campbell.  I will move on.

 

As Jenny Palmer said, the party comes first, and you do as you are told.  Those words are attributed to the Minister's special adviser, Mr Brimstone.  Mr Campbell, as we hear — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: Mr Campbell made no mention of Mr Brimstone as he moved the DUP amendment, something referred to by Mr Attwood and Mr Hussey.  The Minister, who did make reference to Mr Brimstone, said that it would have been wrong and remiss of him not to speak to Councillor Palmer to try to explain the situation, which, I believe, he summarised as a systemic problem in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.  In which case, I ask a very simple question of the Minister: why appeal to her party affiliation?  Why not say simply, "Councillor, you sit on the board of NIHE.  For the sake of the Housing Executive, for the sake of the executive, not of the Democratic Unionist Party, will you please consider your vote?".  But no.  According to Councillor Palmer, she was told by the special adviser, "The party comes first.  You do as you are told".

 

Mr Attwood: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Nesbitt: Well, let me think about that.

 

Mr Attwood: Will the Member agree with me and go further?  On the face of it, what Mr Wilson said in his concluding remarks about the motivation of the SpAd in speaking to Ms Palmer is inconsistent with what the Minister said.  The Minister said that he had spoken to Ms Palmer in order to — I quote his words — explain the "broader context".  Whereas Minister Wilson relied on something very different in order to defend his actions.

 

Mr Nesbitt: I thank the Minister for his intervention.  That is all the more reason why we need a full inquiry into everything. 

 

There are two more issues.  Our motion calls for a full inquiry.  It makes no reference to an inquiry by the Committee for Social Development.

 

I have two other points.  The Minister will have heard Mr Copeland suggest that the jobs at Red Sky were not in danger because they would be TUPE'd.  There was no response from the Minister on that point.

 

Mr McCausland: Does the Member want a response?

 

Mr Nesbitt: No, I said I would not take an intervention. You have had 20 minutes, and you have been caught on. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Once again, the Member must be heard.  Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: The Minister also failed to respond to Daithí McKay, who made the point that the Glass and Glazing Federation was unaware that it had met the Minister and that the Minister had misled the Committee and the House.

 

The lexicon of politics includes the so-called Nolan principles, which Mr Allister, among others, referred to.  They are seven simple words but are, I imagine, quite a challenge to give true meaning to: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

 

Let us take just one: accountability.  The principle states:

 

"Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office."

 

Our motion makes clear what is appropriate.  In 2010, in fairness, the First Minister stood down.  He said that he had done nothing unethical but was prepared to stand down for the sake of the institutions.  Let us remember that his name was cleared.  He stood down, and his name was cleared.  In 2008, Ian Paisley Jnr resigned, saying:

 

"The criticism has been a distraction and has got in the way of the activities of this government."

 

I suggest that the same is now happening with the Social Development Minister.  The criticism, by the way, that forced Mr Paisley out was of allegations regarding Seymour Sweeney, a property developer.  Mr Paisley entered an expression into our political lexicon at that time: "I know of him", he said of the man who had taken him lobster fishing.

 

The DUP is the party that gave the lexicon of politics the £5 land deal.  It is the party that recently added "nutters" to the political phrase book.  It is the party that likes to sue or threaten to sue.  Its amendment is interesting, proposing an investigation into remarks made:

 

"by politicians and commentators ... during and since the broadcast".

 

Where does that stop?  Investigations into remarks since the programme was broadcast: does that mean that I am under investigation for standing here?  Is Michael Copeland under investigation for saying that the jobs were safe under TUPE?  Is Jenny Palmer under investigation for speaking to the 'Spotlight' programme? [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: Is that why the DUP does not want to modernise the law of defamation in this part of the United Kingdom?

 

The way that some Members of the DUP greeted Ann Travers in the Great Hall on the night that the SpAd Bill was passed made me think that that was a great day for this institution.  I reviewed recently how warmly she was embraced by junior Minister Bell, for example.  Ann Travers said something recently that we should all reflect on today.  She said that, when she first heard about a peace-building centre, she thought it was a great idea.  Then, when she heard that it was going to be at the Maze, she thought it was a rubbish idea. [Interruption.] Mr Speaker, the point is this —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Let us get back to the motion before the House. [Interruption.] Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: The point, Mr Speaker, is this: I feel the same way about devolution.  It is a great idea in principle, but we must be very careful how we apply it in practice.

 

I was with Minister McCausland in Cardiff a few weeks ago for two days.  We all signed up to a statement that there are consequences for communities and individuals in breaking the law.  The same applies to breaking the ministerial code.  He should stand aside, and I ask the DUP this:  what comes first —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr Nesbitt: — the integrity of politics at Stormont or the party?

 

Mr Speaker: Order, Members.  Before we proceed to the Question on amendment No 1, I remind Members that, if it is made, I will not put the Question on amendment No 2, as amendment No 2 will be overtaken by the decision on amendment No 1.

 

Question put, That amendment No 1 be made.

 

The Assembly divided:

 

Ayes 34; Noes 55.

 

AYES

 

Mr Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms Brown, Mr Buchanan, Mr Campbell, Mr Clarke, Mr Craig, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Frew, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McQuillan, Mr Moutray, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Mr Wilson.

 

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr McQuillan and Mr G Robinson

 

NOES

 

Mr Agnew, Mr Allister, Mr Attwood, Mr Beggs, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Byrne, Mr Copeland, Mr Cree, Mr Dallat, Mr Dickson, Mr Durkan, Mr Elliott, Dr Farry, Mr Flanagan, Mr Ford, Mr Gardiner, Mr Hazzard, Mr Hussey, Mr G Kelly, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCallister, Ms J McCann, Mr McCarthy, Mr McCartney, Mr McClarty, Ms McCorley, Mr B McCrea, Mr McDevitt, Dr McDonnell, Ms McGahan, Mr McGimpsey, Mr McGlone, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McKay, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mrs Overend, Ms S Ramsey, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan, Mr Swann.

 

Tellers for the Noes: Ms Ruane and Mr Swann

 

Question accordingly negatived.

 

Question, That amendment No 2 be made, put and negatived.

 

Mr Speaker: Once again I remind the House that cross-community support is required for the motion.  I have been advised by the party Whips that, in accordance with Standing Order 27(1A)(b), there is agreement that we dispense with the three minutes and move straight to a Division.

 

Main Question put.

 

The Assembly divided:

 

Ayes 54; Noes 34.

 

 

AYES

 

NATIONALIST:

 

Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Byrne, Mr Durkan, Mr Flanagan, Mr Hazzard, Mr G Kelly, Mr Lynch, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr McDevitt, Dr McDonnell, Ms McGahan, Mr McGlone, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McKay, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Ms S Ramsey, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

 

UNIONIST:

 

Mr Allister, Mr Beggs, Mr Copeland, Mr Cree, Mr Elliott, Mr Gardiner, Mr Hussey, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Mr McCallister, Mr McClarty, Mr B McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Mr Nesbitt, Mrs Overend, Mr Swann.

 

OTHER:

 

Mr Agnew, Mr Dickson, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCarthy.

 

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr McGlone and Ms Ruane.

 

NOES

 

UNIONIST:

 

Mr Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms Brown, Mr Buchanan, Mr Campbell, Mr Clarke, Mr Craig, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Frew, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McQuillan, Mr Moutray, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Mr Wilson.

 

Tellers for the Noes: Mr McQuillan and Mr G Robinson.

 

Total Votes

88

Total Ayes

54

[61.4%]

Nationalist Votes

32

Nationalist Ayes

32

[100.0%]

Unionist Votes

50

Unionist Ayes

16

[32.0%]

Other Votes

6

Other Ayes

6

[100.0%]

Main Question accordingly negatived (cross-community vote).

 

Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  Can you confirm that the outcome of the vote and defeat of the original motion now leaves no limitations on the Social Development Committee in the carrying out of its investigation and that it has full powers to proceed with its investigation without any constraints?

 

Mr Speaker: I can confirm that the decision that the House has taken this afternoon certainly will not constrain the Social Development Committee in its inquiry, but I have no doubt that the Committee will want to take into account the debate in the House this afternoon as part of its inquiry.

 

Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  In light of today's debate and given the nature of the subject, it was suggested on a number of occasions that a Member of this Assembly is accused of being in breach of the code of ethics.  I think that it is incumbent upon you to read the Hansard report and advise the House that if any Member has information to suggest that another Member is in breach of the code of ethics, they should bring it to the Assembly rather than wave it in people's faces.

 

Mr Speaker: I will read the Hansard report and come back to the Member directly.

 

Mr Nesbitt: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  Can you confirm that the motion put no constraint on the Social Development Committee?

 

Mr Speaker: Yes, that is what I said to the First Minister.  The decision of the House puts no constraints on the Social Development Committee in carrying out its inquiry.

 

Adjourned at 2.52 pm.

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