McCausland apologises to Social Development Committee

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The social development minister apologised to members of a Stormont committee after "inadvertently" misinforming them about who attended a meeting to discuss double glazing contracts for Housing Executive homes, on 12 December 2013.

Nelson McCausland said there was no attempt to "mislead."

Last month, a senior civil servant said he was told to change a letter to the Social Development Committee by Mr McCausland's private office.

Michael Sands said he drafted a letter about a meeting held on 16 April 2012.

Nelson McCausland's private office then asked for a reference to a firm called Turkingtons to be changed to the Glass and Glazing Federation and another company called Fusion 21.

Appearing in front of the Social Development Committee, Mr McCausland said he now realised he had "inadvertently misinformed" them about who attended the meeting, but said he had never sought to hide the fact that the meeting was attended by representatives of Turkingtons.

He had a "genuine belief" at the time that the attendees represented the Glass and Glazing Federation.

Comittee chairman Alex Maskey of Sinn Fein said there had been a "concerted focus" to delete references to Turkingtons attending the meeting and that he found the explanation hard to explain.

Mr McCausland said that had the meeting not been included in a BBC Spotlight programme in July 2013 he would have struggled to remember it. Its only major significance, he said, was what was discussed and not who was there.

However, he said, as there was discussion about Glass and Glazing Federation guidelines he believed that was the organisation the attendees were representing.

The minister said he had never met the two men who attended the meeting before, or had had any contact with them.

He also said he had no connection with Turkingtons owner, Trevor Turkington, and had only met him twice.

Mr McCausland said he had not been aware that Mr Turkington had signed the nomination papers of the DUP candidate as claimed in the Spotlight programme. However, it showed he was a man of "good discernment."

TUV leader Jim Allister asked the minister if he had "some sensitivity in putting up in lights that he met with Turkingtons, a party donor, and therefore had an anxiety to divert it off to the Glass and Glazing Federation."

Mr McCausland replied "absolutely not."

The SDLP's Delores Kelly asked the minister "is it not the case they (Turkingtons) also fund what's affectionately known in DUP circles as your battle bus during election time?

"Have you asked your party executive or your party leader to what extent Turkingtons have funded your party in the past."

Mr McCausland replied: "I'm not an officer in the party. My interests are entirely within my constituency and the remit of my department. I have no knowledge at all in regard to the workings internally, the financial arrangements or whatever, of the party because I'm not an officer."

In a later session, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, briefed the committee on alcohol-related harm.

You can see the second part of the meeting here.

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