Northern Ireland

Housing Executive inquiry adjourned after heated exchanges

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Media captionSinn Féin's Alex Maskey adjourned the meeting after exchanges with the DUP

An inquiry by a Stormont committee about political interference in the running of the Housing Executive has been temporarily adjourned after heated exchanges.

Social development committee chair, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey took the decision after exchanges with DUP MLAs.

Sammy Wilson claimed Mr Maskey was not chairing the inquiry "very well".

He claimed some of the questioning of the DSD minister was beyond the inquiry's terms of reference.

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke also accused Mr Maskey of being biased.

Mr Maskey said the committee was a "professional committee" and questioning would be "done properly".

He added that committee members had "a responsibility to probe".

The committee sat for around an hour and heard evidence from the DSD Minister Nelson McCausland.

Speaking in the committee, the TUV MLA Jim Allister said DUP members had come to the committee to act as a "human shield for the minister".

Ulster Unionist member of the committee, Michael Copeland said the behaviour of DUP members "demonstrated their willingness to go to any lengths to protect their minister from public scrutiny".

He added: ""If the DUP are not prepared to allow the committee to carry out its business and question the minister then it may now be time to consider establishing an independent inquiry to investigate these very serious allegations."

The inquiry was expected to hear evidence from the minister's special adviser Stephen Brimstone, and Department of Social Development permanent secretary Will Haire.

The committee is investigating allegations broadcast in a BBC Spotlight programme about political interference in the running of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).

Its inquiry has been examining if there was any impropriety or irregularity relating to NIHE-managed contracts.

The inquiry by the DSD committee has been adjourned for the day. It will meet again at another date to be determined.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said the committee chair Alex Maskey was right to adjourn proceedings after a series of heated exchanges with DUP members.

The Alliance MLA said the exchanges made the committee look like a "laughing stock ".

He added that the job of the inquiry "still needs to be done ".

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