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Ruane calls for inquiry into political interference in the Housing Executive

8 July, 2013 - by Caitríona Ruane

Speaking today in the Assembly on the motion calling for an inquiry into allegations of wrongful political interference in the Housing Executive Ms Ruane said:

Let us be very clear, we are here today because of the allegations aired in last Wednesday nights Spotlight programme.

That programme aired serious allegations of corruption, financial corruption and political corruption. Those allegations, in the public mind, call into question two of our major institutions, the Housing Executive and our political institutions.  

The public is rightly asking questions about whether or not political influence can ensure the awarding of public contracts or even if it can ensure that business competitors will not be awarded them. They are asking if political influence can ensure political favours.

Of course allegations are not in themselves proof, but what has been put forward in the programme clearly warrants investigation. The claim that contractors were making illegal payments to Housing Executive staff in order to ensure that they turned a blind eye to the payment for work that was either not carried out or was of such a shoddy standard that it should not have been paid for is something that was carried in the Public Accounts Committee report.

This Assembly needs to know the full extent of the PSNI investigation. Indeed at the Policing Board last Thursday I asked Matt Baggott to investigate the allegations in the Spotlight programme and he has assured me that he will. I await his report back in relation to this.

The programme also made claims about abuses of political governance. Whatever political parties may have tried to insinuate in the past about sectarian motives for some decisions there can be no such defence or hiding place from the allegations made about the DSD Minister's political adviser.

The allegations come from a member of the Minister's own Party so let no one try and claim that she has a political axe to grind against the DUP.  Whilst the Minister and his political adviser have sought to dispute Jenny Palmer's version of events about improper political influence anyone who has seen the programme will draw their own conclusion about who was most believable.

The programme also exposed a difference in draft letter that the Minister sent to the DSD Scrutiny Committee.  It is very noticeable that the final version of the letter delivered by the Minister sought to disguise the fact that he had met with a Party supporter who had a vested interest in the awarding of contracts for the fitting of windows. Now, the Minister in his evidence to the DSD Scrutiny Committee last Thursday was at great pains to point out that the Housing Executive had already started to review the specification for windows prior to his meeting with representatives of Turkington. 

That being the case then the public will quite rightly ask why if the Minister had nothing to hide, then why did he seek to cover up who he had met with. In particular the public will ask if it was appropriate for the Minster to be discussing with a potential bidder what the specifications for a contract should be.

The Spotlight programme reminded people of the Minster’s desired approach to retain Red Sky despite the overwhelming evidence of its wrongdoing.  Such an approach was a clear demonstration, at best, of the Minister’s poor political judgement or at worst, as some might suggest of boxing off party supporters.

There is no place for brown envelope culture anywhere on this island and the DUP, and Nelson McCausland have major questions to answer. Turkington Holdings is owned by Trevor Turkington, a public supporter of the DUP, he nominated Stephen Moutray in 2011. Is Trevor Turkington or his company a DUP donor? Will give the floor to the DUP if they would like to answer this question. Do Red Sky or any of their directors donate to the DUP?

We have seen the impact of the Brown envelope culture in the South of Ireland.  Last week we were reminded yet again, if we needed to be, of the arrogance and disdain of the golden circle of bankers, developers and politicians who had been too long in power and who forgot who they are working for.

Political Donations and Transparency

Sinn Féin support transparency regarding political donations and have lobbied the British government in relation to this. 

For the record all or donations in the north that are of a registerable level are from MLA’s and Special Advisors and other employees. The DUP refuse to publish the names of donors and are hiding behind “security concerns”. 

Let’s look at the record of parties in this house – UUP and DUP continue to support secrecy on donations.

The SDLP claim to support transparency,  yet when Margaret Ritchie became SDLP leader she said she would publish donors – this has never happened, why? We know for example through the work of the Moriarty Tribunal that both Denis O’Brien and Paddy McKillen donated to the SDLP. 

There is no good in parties claiming to want transparency and continuing to lobby the British government for secrecy.

The British Government continue to facilitate this practice.Sinn Féin has taken action and stand on our record.

1. Paul Maskey in 2009 made the Housing Executive aware of the sub standard work. Indeed he was so worried about it he asked the NIAO to commission an investigation into it.

2. Alex Maskey Chair of Social Development Committee summoned the Minister to the Committee for Social Development on Thursday and a full investigation will be carried out.

3.  I have made a Complaint to the Assembly Commissioner for Standards regarding Nelson McCausland and await the outcome of that.

 4.  We also await the PSNI report I requested last Thursday at the Policing Board.

I am deeply disappointed at the DUP approach to the debate. The use of a Petition of Concern in this instance is wrong and inappropriate and sends out a message to the public that the DUP think they can abuse these institutions instead of answering the questions that need to be answered.

Let’s remind ourselves who we are working for – we are working for people like Sinéad Flannery who spoke out on the Spotlight programme. For Sinn Féin it is immaterial whether Sinéad lives in the Falls or the Shankill, Sandy Row or Warrenpoint. 

Sinéad was 7 months pregnant with five children and her ceiling collapsed four times in the space of a year after Red Sky repairs.

We are working or the people of Lenadoon, when after flooding, tinfoil was wrapped around fuses as a form of repair breaching every health and safety regulation under the sun and endangering the occupants of the house.

These people deserve the highest standards of housing, they also deserve the truth from the DUP in relation to these matters.

I would call upon the Minister to stand aside from his role as DSD Minister along with his SPAD whilst his actions are investigated by the Commissioner for Standards.  The precedent for standing aside and allowing an investigation to take place has already been set by the Minister's Party leader. 

Anything less will leave our political system open to ridicule because his actions and the actions of his political adviser have created the thought in people's minds that politicians are more concerned about boxing off their political supporters than they are about conducting themselves with probity and fairness.

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