Minister rejects 'insinuations' in BBC programme

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The Social Development Committee agreed to set up an inquiry into allegations broadcast in a BBC NI Spotlight programme, on 4 July 2013.

The programme alleged there had been political interference in the running of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).

Speaking at a meeting of the committee, Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland rejected the allegations and described the programme as, "botched job" that included "insinuation and innuendo and misrepresentation".

He said it was "a huge fishing expedition and not much of a catch at the end of it".

The minister defended his special adviser Stephen Brimstone, who also featured in the Spotlight programme, describing him as a person with "high ability and integrity".

Committee chairman Alex Maskey of Sinn Fein said the issues raised by Spotlight constituted a "major public issue".

This was a lengthy session of almost two-and-a-half hours, and the minister discussed a wide range of matters including the termination of NIHE's contract with the Red Sky maintenance company, allegations concerning former NIHE chairman Brian Rowntree, and questions about double glazing replacement.

The minister's DUP colleague, Gregory Campbell, said he wanted the producers and presenters of the Spotlight programme to appear before the committee as part of its inquiry.

Mr McCausland said he would welcome a move to recall the Assembly to discuss matters arising from the programme.

"I welcome the opportunity on Monday the record straight," he said.

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