Northern Ireland

Nelson McCausland: Minister denies misleading DSD committee

Nelson McCausland
Image caption Allegations against Nelson McCausland were broadcast on BBC Spotlight

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has denied misleading his department's oversight committee.

He described a report that said he did as "fundamentally flawed and weak".

The committee concluded that he had misled it in relation to meetings in which he had been involved.

Its investigation followed a BBC Spotlight programme broadcast last year that examined allegations surrounding public housing maintenance contracts.

Department of Social Development committee members agreed a motion that it had been misled by the minister.

Mr McCausland had sent a letter to the committee to say he had met the Glass and Glazing Federation to discuss the specifications of a major double glazing programme.

The Spotlight programme revealed that the meeting was with Turkington Holdings, a firm that has had links with the DUP.

Last year, the minister said he had inadvertently misinformed the committee.

'Serious questions'

He wrote to the committee earlier this month saying that its report into the allegations should "not be published in its current form".

Sinn Féin MLA and social development committee chair Alex Maskey said Mr McCausland had "serious questions to answer".

"Nelson McCausland claimed in a letter to MLAs on the committee that he has met representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation when in fact he was actually met with representatives of an individual company," he said.

"A senior civil servant was then told to change the record of that meeting in the letter to the committee to back up the minister's claim.

"All parties with the exception of the DUP took the view, based on the extensive evidence in the report, that the minister deliberately misled the committee.

"Not only was the committee misled but there was a concerted effort to change the record of the meeting."

SDLP MLA and committee member Dolores Kelly said the minister should consider his position.

'Witch hunt'

"In any other jurisdiction we have seen ministers fall on their swords in England, Scotland and Wales, and more recently in the south of Ireland with Alan Shatter's resignation, so why is Nelson McCausland not facing similar criticism?" she said.

DUP MLA and DSD member Sammy Wilson dismissed the committee's report as a "discredited political witch-hunt and a waste of time and money".

"The civil servants who gave evidence to the committee indicated that there was nothing untoward about his meetings. They were explicit in their judgement that they would have advised the minister to do the meetings regardless of who it was with," he said.

"Indeed, rather than trying to mislead the assembly or the committee the minister gave an assembly answer in 2012 where he said: 'In relation to the Glass and Glazing Federation I met with the managing director and the general manager of Turkington Holdings on 16 April 2012'.

"Rather than misleading the assembly or committee in letters, meetings or assembly answers, the minister frequently made reference to who those meetings were with."

'Lame duck'

Ulster Unionist social development spokesman, Michael Copeland, called Mr McCausland a "lame duck minister".

"Disappointingly, despite being faced with the facts, the DUP members of the committee defended their man and insisted on issuing a minority report," he said.

"Committee members should be there to scrutinise, not to prop up a lame duck minister who has no clear knowledge or recollection of certain events.

"Nelson McCausland should consider his position."

TUV leader and member of the social development committee, Jim Allister, said: "In any credible democracy a minister found guilty of deliberately misleading his scrutiny committee would be packing his bags.

"But, this is Stormont, where anything goes. So, no doubt, the minister and his party will seek to brazen it out.

"The minister's credibility, like his evidence, is shot through. He should go."

A motion about the report and the minister will be debated at Stormont in the autumn.

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