STORMONT committee has found Nelson McCausland acted inappropriately but …

STORMONT committee has found Nelson McCausland acted inappropriately but the former DUP minister will face no sanctions due to the “impotency” of assembly’s accountability procedures.

The social development committee concluded that the North Belfast MLA was “politically motivated” when he sought to extend maintenance firm Red Sky’s multi-million pound contract with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The DUP has rejected the commit-tee’s findings, with Mr McCausland himself branding the inquiry a “witch-hunt”.

In addition to the report’s damning conclusions over Mr McCausland’s conduct, and that of his former special adviser Stephen Brimstone, the MLAs also voiced their frustration at the lack of means to hold ministers – and their advisers – to account.

Last night committee chairman Alex Maskey said there were “glaring deficiencies in procedure”.

“In any other institution heads would have rolled,” he said.

The SDLP’s Dolores Kelly said the committee had been frustrated by the “impotency” of Stormont’s accountability mechanisms, which leave MLAs powerless to impose sanctions for misconduct.

“What we now need is a robust mechanism to hold ministers to account – today’s report is a damning indictment of Nelson McCausland and clearly demonstrates that he is unfit to hold high office,” she said.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson condemned the former minister and his party colleagues.

“This is a story that demands resignations, a story that demands integrity in public office,” he said.

“Sadly, the story today will be one of denial and refusal to do the right thing – that will be the order of the day for that party [the DUP]. A sad and sorry tale – one I hope the public will judge the players harshly, especially when it comes to elections to this assembly in the future.”

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs said the DUP had “circled the wagons” since the allegations came to light and had attempted to frustrate the Department for Social Development probe.

TUV leader Jim Allister accused his erstwhile party colleagues in the DUP of “the worst excesses of abuse of power” since the restoration of devolution.

But the DUP, which produced their own ‘minority report’ exonerating Mr McCausland, went on the defensive.

His successor at the Department for Social Development, Mervyn Storey, said the committee’s report was “lacking in substance”.

Mr McCausland said the report was “high on innuendo and supposition but short on solid argument and evidence”.

“Quite frankly it’s 1,100 pages long, but not worth the paper it’s written on – in fact a waste of good paper,” the former minister said.

“The truth is many members of the committee had their minds made up before they started and they weren’t going to let the evidence, or lack of evidence, get in the way of a pre-determined outcome.”

The inquiry focused on Mr McCausland’s attempt to get the NI Housing Executive to extend Red Sky’s £8 million-a-year contract for maintenance on its social housing stock, despite concerns being raised about the work it carried out.

The committee questioned the minister’s attendance at a meeting with representatives from the defunct Red Sky company, without the administrators present, that discussed the contract situation.

The investigation also focused on the conduct of Mr McCausland’s special adviser Stephen Brimstone – specifically an allegation he tried to pressurise DUP councillor Jenny Palmer, who was a member of the Housing Executive board, to change her vote at a board meeting considering the Red Sky contract.

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