AN UNIONIST MLA has called for a full inquiry into claims that a DUP special advisor ordered a party colleague to vote against removing a Housing Executive contract from an east Belfast company.
And MLAs are also calling for the Northern Ireland Assembly to be recalled on Thursday over allegations surrounding the Housing Executive made in a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight investigation by award-winning journalist Mandy McAuley.
The programme claimed Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland’s special advisor (SPAD) Stephen Brimstone intervened in the row over the dropping of an £8 million contract by the Housing Executive to company Red Sky.
The firm carried out maintenance contracts for the Executive in the Belfast area.
However, most of the allegations centred on work in the west of the city.
The Executive ended its contract with Red Sky in April 2011 over allegations the east Belfast firm overcharged the public housing body between £800,000 and £1.3 million.
An internal audit claimed cited allegations of fraud and charging for repairs on properties that didn’t exist.
In May 2011, Nelson McCausland and party leader, First Minister Peter Robinson met with the management of Red Sky.
Following the meeting, Mr Robinson accused the Executive of “sectarian bias”.
The following month, after he was appointed Housing Minister, Mr McCausland asked the Executive not to suspend Red Sky’s contract.
Now it has emerged that Mr McCausland’s special advisor (SPAD) Stephen Brimstone ordered a Housing Executive audit team member and a DUP councillor not to vote against removing Red Sky’s contract.
DUP councillor Jenny Palmer told the BBC NI Spotlight programme that she was driven to despair by the pressure the party had put her under.
She claimed Mr Brimstone told her to “go against the decision of the board – the party comes first.”
The councillor claimed to the Spotlight reporter that Mr Brimstone told her: “There is no point in me being on the board if I wasn’t prepared to do what they asked me to do.”
He allegedly added: “You do as you are told.”
However, Mr Brimstone refused to answer BBC Spotlight questions over the matter.
In a statement, he said he “does not accept that he put pressure on her (Ms Palmer).”
The allegations have re-opened the whole saga around the Hosuing Executive and Red Sky.
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “With the dominant party in the Stormont regime implicated, it is clear no local investigation will suffice.
“I am, therefore, calling on the Secretary of State (Theresa Villiers) to step in and oversee a suitable inquiry.
“There is a fundamental issue of public confidence here which must be addressed.”
The DUP have denied claims made in the programme, citing “inaccuracies” and “defamation”.
Robin Swann MLA, Chief Whip of the Ulster Unionist Party, contacted the Assembly Speaker’s office overnight seeking a recall as a matter of urgency.
Alliance Social Development spokesperson Judith Cochrane MLA wants the Social Development Minister to provide answers to what she described as the serious questions raised in the programme.
“Nelson McCausland must provide answers to these issues and release any relevant information.
“It would be normal practice in Westminster for a Minister to stand aside temporarily if serious questions are raised of their actions, Nelson McCausland should consider doing so while any investigation takes place by the Assembly Commissioner for Standards.
“The Assembly and the public have a right to hear from the Minister on these issues. I believe we should consider a special recall of the Assembly for him to make such a statement.”
Alex Maskey, the Sinn Féin Chairperson of the DSD Committee, said that he will be summoning Minister McCausland to appear before the committee on Thursday.
“People both in the Assembly and indeed the wider community will be demanding answers from the Minister and his party about their conduct.
“Nobody should underestimate the seriousness of this situation.”
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said: “The Assembly should be recalled immediately. We cannot wait two months to get answers on this.”