What happens next? Where will the Spotlight now shine?

  • With only thirty signatures needing to be submitted to the Speaker, the Assembly is very likely to be recalled early next week to allow a piece of predictable political theatre to be rehearsed in the chamber. Party leaders will compete for sound bites; DUP back and front benchers will interject and vigorously support their embattled minister, and there will be more heat than light.
  • The Social Development Committee will hold an inquiry with invitations extended to Mandy McAuley and the Spotlight team; the minister; the minister’s SPAD Stephen Brimstone; reversible window hinge experts; employees and ex-employees of Red Sky Totalis and other companies (which may or may not be in administration); the board and so-far absent chief executive of the NIHE; maintenance managers who may or may not have been taking bribes. The inquiry may start during the summer, but it real work will not commence until the autumn.
  • If allegations of bribery are made to the PSNI, they’ll start an investigation.
  • A complaint may be made to the Assembly Commissioner for Standards who will acknowledge it, consider its admissibility, investigate the matter and report (without recommendations) to the Assembly’s Committee on Standards and Privileges who may or may not agree with the Commissioner in terms of upholding/dismissing the complaint and take it upon themselves to make further investigations, produce a report and if appropriate agree sanctions (eg, the member apologises or is suspended from the Assembly with/without pay for a period).
  • The DUP will no doubt internally discuss the actions of their Lisburn councillor Jenny Palmer. Does Peter Robinson’s top drawer of resignation letters include ones for councillors as well as MLAs? Lisburn city council is a tetchy place at the best of times. Jenny Palmer and her husband – also a councillor – may experience the worst of the pantomime behaviour (booing and hissing) when they next attend a council meeting. (Nothing scheduled until 23 July.)
  • As a temporary civil servant, complaints about the DSD Minister’s special advisor will be made to the department’s permanent secretary and/or the head of the NI Civil Service. Jim Allister has today written to Malcolm McKibben asking for an investigation around sections 5 and 6 of the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers.

5. Special Advisers should conduct themselves with integrity and honesty. …

6. Special Advisers should not use official resources for party political activity. They are employed to serve the objectives of the Administration and the Department in which they work. It is this which justifies their being paid from public funds and being able to use public resources, and explains why their participation in party politics is clearly limited. They should act in a way which upholds the political impartiality of civil servants. They should avoid anything which might reasonable lead to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes.

  • Journalists will continue to dig into the background of the many-tentacled story. Expect more investigation from The Detail. There will be a reluctance to repeat too many of the detailed allegations made by Spotlight. But there are plenty of human interest angles – upset whistle-blowing councillors, unemployed maintenance company workers, residents in NIHE properties needing work – on top of the straight reporting of the many parallel investigations. The Health department and minister Edwin Poots will breathe a sigh of relief that the focus has moved away from waiting lists and residential homes.

Have I missed any?

There are of course other political consequences and perception issues.

Speaking on Lisburn’s 98FM On the Record politics programme at lunchtime, commentator Alex Kane gave his view of the political impact:

The [DUP] have had a terrible couple of weeks. It goes back to the time of the Maze. The disputes they’re having with the UUP, the TUV, the UKIP and the Orange Order. The difficulties they’re now having with the Unionist Forum which seems to be falling apart day by day which is supposed to be the great big vehicle for bringing everyone together. We now have this problem – the Spotlight programme last night.

The problem with this is that it’s almost like a perception. There comes a stage when it doesn’t really matter about the accuracy of the programme. It doesn’t really matter about little niggly internal/external problems. There comes a moment in political parties when sometimes almost anything they do just reconfirms someone’s suspicion of them.

I saw it happen up close and personal with the Ulster Unionist Party over two or three years. It got to the point that no matter what they did, the perception just seemed to ram home to people that they were a party in big, big trouble.

He looked back at the personal price Peter Robinson paid – rather than the party – after the previous Spotlight programme that focussed on Iris Robinson.

He asked whether a proportion of DUP supporters would just stay at home or whether they’d go to the UUP or the TUV. Given Spotlight on top of existing issues like the Maze, if 8-12% of DUP voters gave up on them it could change the balance of the Assembly.

All it needs is 7 or 8 seats for the DUP to lose to mean they are no longer the top party.

Nelson McCausland’s confident performance at the Social Development committee this morning will have minimised the early damage. Given the ups and downs of Nelson’s spell at the helm of DSD, it must be tempting to rotate the minister over the summer Yet Peter Robinson’s remaining patience will have to be balanced with his grasp of the negative perception of a disappearing minister under fire

Unionist unity will certainly be on the back burner for a few months, but there is time to rebuild strategic alliances after next year’s Euro elections.

No matter whether the allegations made on Spotlight are true or not, NI21 have been a huge opening to ask voters to switch away from the dust cloud that surrounds the existing parties and instead support their “fresh” new vehicle. If NI21 doesn’t grab this gift bull by the horns and capitalise on the opportunity they may as well pack away the banners and retire.

Alliance will hope for a bounce. Jim Allister will be in his element finding ways of keeping the DUP under pressure. The SDLP will throw badly shaped snowballs across the chamber and the airwaves, all the time having to fend off the DUP’s likely retaliation against their Minister for Planning and Local Government Reform, Alex Attwood.

And Sinn Fein will stay remarkably quiet, knowing how awful NI Water-gate was for them.

, , , , ,

  • son of sam

    As always the reaction of Sinn Fein to this “little local difficulty” will be the most interesting to observe given that Peter and Martin are once again best buddies.Alan’s last sentence probably sums it up There may well be a few ritualised sound bites from S F backbenchers and Alex Maskey will trumpet the establishment of the Social Development Inquiry but playing the long game will suit the Shinners just fine.On the D U P front ,it seems a bit premature to suggest that this will hit them electorally .With the Council and European elections coming up next year,no doubt the wagons will be circled and the laager mentality will prevail.

  • iluvni

    Woeful from Carruthers on indescribably bad The View.
    Too interested in hectoring McCausland, the interview delivered nothing at all…and all that nonsense about having no time to go into the issues, only for ten minutes to be wasted on some crappy ‘awards’ drum roll trash at the end of the show.
    What a dire show. Scrap it immediately.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Agreed, Carruthers is too hostile in general to his interview subjects.

  • Minister McCausland was playing for time…but was facilitated by Mark Carruthers who put in a performance that was embarrassing.

  • GavBelfast

    Do you really think Carruthers comes across as hostile?

    I think he comes across as a pussy compared to, say, Noel Thompson or Seamus McKee.

    On ‘The View’ … ‘Hearts and Minds’ lasted 16 years, what odds ‘The View’ lasting much more than 16 months?

  • UserAinm

    Is The View repeated or put on iplayer?

  • BluesJazz

    Missed most of it.
    What did Nelson say about the meeting with Red Sky without the administrators present? And about Turkington?

    If he was able to defend those issues he must be some operator.

  • Mick Fealty

    Heres the core of the argument McCausland should have stuck to:

    Taking a fat contract off an audited RedSky and then giving it to an unaudited rival would have been deeply irresponsible and much more of an abandonment of ministerial pledge than any alleged breach of minor regulations…

    Not BBCNI’s finest hour…

  • Mick Fealty

    UA, usually on iplayer pretty soon after…

  • son of sam

    On last weeks edition of The View from Derry, he was anything but hostile to the D F M .Surprisingly with Prof Deirdre Heenan in the studio he missed an opportunity to question Martin about the “campaign ” by local S F M L As and councillors in respect of Magee University.Prof Heenan has since replied robustly suggesting that with Sinn Fein being one of the major parties in the Executive they must share some responsibility for the lack of development of Magee.It would have made for interesting viewing to see Martin and Deirdre go head to head but either Mark or his production team opted out of that one!

  • megatron

    Tone of Carruthers/Nelson interview reminded me of the Miriam v Gerry disaster a while back.

    Neither party ends up with much credit. Nelson probably has more to lose than Carruthers.

    Agree with those who say it was a terrible show.

  • UserAinm

    Go raibh maith agat Mick.

  • FuturePhysicist

    A secular British party would never do the same thing here, it’s not like any Secretary of States here have been appointed after a housing scandal!

    Nor would they be able to retake a position in the executive/cabinet as an unelected Special Advisor/Lord!

    We could learn a lot from Westminster, thank heavens we have bloggers here who praise that system very well.

  • BluesJazz [11.57] As a nationalist, after watching Nelson’s car crash appearance on The View, I’m indebted to him for that performance where he showed his true bullying character. He set out from the start to sabotage the interview by filibustering and came across as seriously defensive and cynical. I agree with Alex Kane’s and Eamon Mallie’s assessment it was car crash tv for the DUP. With any luck this will infect Robbo for appointing such a mountebank [to use an old fashioned term] to office. Monday at Stormont will be, as Ken Ried is fond of saying, interesting.

  • Alan asked “Have I missed any?”

    How about a private members bill, put forward by one of the 3 members of the opposition, the “Assumption of Corruption Bill”. Since power corrupts, we can assume those with power, particularly Ministers and their top civil servants, are corrupt until they prove otherwise. Once a year, each one has to go to prison, and not be let out until they have proved beyond reasonable doubt that they have not misused their power during the last year.

  • FuturePhysicist

    So if David Ford is assumed to be corrupt; quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  • pauluk


    Nelson has every right to be cynical of the BBC. He can quite justifiably view them with contempt. I mean, with their record, what right do they have to accuse anyone of greed and corruption?

    With their level of incompetence and partiality, and without huge injections of taxes from an ill-served public, could they survive in the real world? Doubt it!

  • Pauluk [1.09]Nelson has every right to be cyncal of the BBC but he’s still unfit for office. The Ormeau Ave lot no doubt satisfied the younger McCausland by taking the UDA/UWC line in 1974. They are as corrupt as he is in their dealings with the UDA/UWC back then but McCausland had no problem with the BBC’s corruption back then. One rule for ‘ussuns’, another rule for ‘themmuns’ The DUP is a political sewer, and anyone who joins [like Donaldson and Foster] are complicit in their hatred of catholics. They are entrenched bigots by association.

  • D.A.

    The spotlight will now move to Arlene Foster, with Chris Moore’s report on the Presbyterian Mutual Society on UTV Insight at 8p.m. on Monday.

    The PMS was under Foster’s department the whole way through the saga, wasn’t it?

  • Morpheus

    What happens next? We sit back and watch as this is brushed under the carpet along with Girdwood, last years debacle with the bands, the embarrassing decision to deny evolution and show that the world is 6000 years old at one of our biggest international tourist destinations and everything else already under there.

    This man has waaaay more power than he should.

  • Morpheus[8.52] Nobody but Robinson would have put McCausland with in a hundred miles of serious political power, a parish council wouldn’t give him an hour in office so Robbo is now clearly damaged goods and his own intervention in Red Sky case was typically sectarian.

  • Mick Fealty

    This was a 2011 story, that despite extensive research by the production team (including doorstepping Red Sky workers) appears not to have moved on since then.

    I first heard of it when Paul Maskey began tweeting about a dossier of Red Sky’s misdeeds in his own west Belfast constituency on Twitter. In fact suspicions of widespread fraud in the fulfillment of contracts first emerged in an NIAO REPORT IN 2010, under the previous minister.

    However when I asked Paul for a copy, I got no reply. Interest picqued, I made a few phone calls. What I got from DUP sources at that time was the substantive plank in the ministers defence yesterday, ie that he was not going to take a contract off one contractor who had been tested and spectacularly failed and give it to another who hadn’t been tested at all.

    As he said both at the committee and on the View, he had reason to suspect that this was more than an isolated case. That the NIHE was failing in its handling of contractors across the board. What the second, broader, deep dive report subsequently found was that 5/6 contractors who were failing on more than 50% of their contracts.

    Red Sky accounted for a full ten per cent of all suspected fraud. But the next four, whom the NIHE wanted to award the work under an STA (you know, that thing the SF DRD Minster sacked most of the board of NIW for not querying hard enough) accounted for between 5 and 7% of suspected fraid cases.

    Red Sky does NOT have any NIHE contracts. Nor does its successor company. The Minister put an end to a very cosy relationship, though who is to say there should not be police action on foot of the cases highlighted on the programme.

    There is a very serious problem with the way government deals with the private sector. That much was obvious from the NIW story where the capacity to forensically review contracts and contractors performance was dismantled.

    Meanwhile none of this is doing genuine small contractors any favours.

  • pauluk

    Ms Palmer says that it was ‘a single instance of inappropriate behaviour’, but DUP haters are milking it for all that it’s worth.

    ‘When asked if she wanted to stay in the DUP or if it was possible to do so, she said: “I hope I can. I have fantastic colleagues in the DUP and I believe in the policies of the DUP.’

    Those in the media (and political circles) who have exploited Palmer obviously don’t want to hear stuff like that. She will be discarded now that she is no more use to them, just like the Guardian used and abused Assange and Snowden, and then abandoned them.

  • Delphin

    “There is a very serious problem with the way government deals with the private sector.”
    I think a lot of this stems from the desire of MLAs to micro- manage government. They like wielding power and impressing their constituents. And given the lack of transparency with political donations here, we have no idea how grateful the said constituents are. Couple this with a Civil Service that has its own agenda and sticks to it, you have the core of the problem.

  • streetlegal

    The aspect of this story which seems to have been missed is how easy it was for McCausland to secure the compliance of top DSD civil servants to comply with his inappropriate intervention on behalf of Red Sky managers. That a minister is prepared to act in a corrupt manner should not come as a surprise to anyone – but that he should be facilitated in such actions by top DSD officials is perhaps the most serious matter of all. Make no mistake – what we have seen here is the political corruption of a government department.

  • Boglover

    “There is a very serious problem with the way government deals with the private sector.”
    I think a lot of this stems from the desire of MLAs to micro- manage government. They like wielding power and impressing their constituents

    Spot on Delphin and Mick. Why else the issues around the Planning Bill, too?

  • 241934 john brennan

    During any audit, or scrutiny, within any government department and public service authority, if there comes a point when fraud is suspected, the mandatory rules are that are that internal investigations must cease and the matter handed over to police.
    So, for several years, what was going on in the Housing Executive and the Department of Social Development? Did everyone just suspect an accounting cock-up?

  • iluvni[11.21] I see no difference now between the Sunday Politics and the view in fact the fact the ditched Hearts and Minds and Noel Thompson for this fluff is weird. The political award bit shows the local media are far too pally with the politicians. Nolan has even apologised once to one of them for just agrreing to be quizzed about an important issue and facing hard questions from him.

  • D.A.

    Petition of Concern. They really are utterly shameless in their contempt for the electorate.

  • Mick Fealty

    John B,

    “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”


    “No Comment”…

  • ayeYerMa

    On pauluk’s comment at 1:09, agree with everything about BBC except the bit about “partiality” in the real world. In the real world there is no such thing on most issues as “neutrality” or complete “independence” for ANYONE (favourite phrases for many politicians). Everyone has some sort of bias or another, and the problem with the BBC is that they pretend otherwise. It’s almost as if in this case they decided it was turn to dig-up whatever they could find on the DUP.

    What I don’t understand is why McCausland even played the BBC’s game when the BBC kept absurdly using its phrase of “political interference”. The housing executive has “political interference” as standard by virtue of having political appointments to its board. I don’t understand what world the BBC live in if they think one politician talking to another politician in the same party isn’t going to happen.

  • Morpheus

    Talking to a party colleague is one thing (remember she was not on the board representing the DUP) but telling her to vote against her conscience is another.

    The lady deserves so much respect – she has shown great integrity and bravery.

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    I am not a DUP fan but due respect to them for using the system, up at our wee dysfunctional seat of government for pulling out their ace, in a petition of concern.

    Right out of the shinner handbook that one.

  • Granni Trixie

    McCauselands performance on the view was a classic example of trying (not v successfully) to shoot the messenger ie the BBC. He also came across as fillibustering so that he did not have to answer questions. What the viewer was left with was a man blatantly pretending there was no case of corruption to answer.

    He chose the wrong strategy. If he is “innocent” of wrongdoing he ought to have explained himself through answering the questions.
    I am also curious as to why he is sticking up for his SPAD – there is more to this than we know, I feel sure.

  • Neil
  • ArdoyneUnionist

    To coin a phrase “so what”!!! With a petition of concern that’s, that.

  • Morpheus

    Why the POC? What does “any move to censure Mr McCausland is doomed to failure” actually mean?

    Does it mean that even if something is found in the investigation nothing can be done about it?

  • Neil

    To coin a phrase “so what”!!! With a petition of concern that’s, that.

    You think so? The DUP aren’t the only Unionists you know.

  • Red Lion

    I think it is entirely likely that the DUP will lose a good 10 % of their vote next time out. I think probably a good bit more

    Perhaps not so much because of the DUP shenanigans as a ‘push’ factor but because people actually have for a variety of reasons more credible alternatives as pull factors.

    There will be DUP voters who will go to NI21.

  • Neil


    yeah I think so. And big Jim too. Whatever you think of him you have to agree, he’s good value.

  • Devil Eire

    Mick Fealty:

    Red Sky does NOT have any NIHE contracts. Nor does its successor company. The Minister put an end to a very cosy relationship

    How exactly did the Minister put an end to the ‘cosy’ relationship between Red Sky and the NIHE?

  • Mick Fealty

    Simples. Follow the money. 18 Million the NIAO estimates was misspent by the NIHE in fraud. Previous estimates originating from the department suggest Red Sky was responsible for 10% of that. I make that 1.8 million.

    In the meantime, Red Sky as a public sector housing contractor is no more, and nor were the contracts it previously held handed over willy nilly to adjacent companies without an open tender. Here’s the Audit Office report published yesterday:

    the types of weaknesses found by the CAU inspections include:
     over measurement where the quantity of the materials paid to the contractor is excessive compared
    to the materials required or used;
     work being paid for twice as there was confusion on the part of some staff over what was deemed
    to be included in the contract;
     work being paid for twice as contractor claimed for work that should have been completed at no
    additional cost as it fell within the 6 month defect liability period; and
     claims for work not completed by the contractor.

  • Devil Eire

    Mick Fealty:

    Thanks for your response, but it has left me none the wiser.

    You asserted that it was the Minister who put an end to the cosy relationship between Red Sky and the NIHE.

    What action did the Minister take to end this cosy relationship?

  • Comrade Stalin


    Ms Palmer says that it was ‘a single instance of inappropriate behaviour’, but DUP haters are milking it for all that it’s worth.

    Fred Frazer ? Ransom strips ? Ian Paisley Jnr’s dodgy mortgages from that guy Seymour ? I would not question Ms Palmer’s integrity after she acted to ensure that the truth was published about this matter, but perhaps as a councillor in Lisburn she’s not privy to everything that goes on.


    Red Sky does NOT have any NIHE contracts. Nor does its successor company. The Minister put an end to a very cosy relationship…

    Mick, it sounds like you haven’t seen the Spotlight programme. It alledges

    (a) the DUP acted to get Red Sky’s contract termination put on hold; a Red Sky official was quoted on the programme as saying that the purpose of this was to try to get Red Sky reinstated;

    (b) that the DUP participated in a meeting with representatives of Red Sky – without involving either Red Sky’s administrators (BDO) or the Housing Executive, about a buyout of Red Sky’s existing HE contracts ?

    I suggest you watch the programme on iPlayer before you comment any further on this matter.

  • Devil Eire

    Comrade Stalin,

    If you’re suggesting that Mick Fealty has rushed to exonerate and extoll the Minister without actually being aware of the allegations against him, surely you must be wrong.

    Anyway, why bother watching ‘Spotlight’ when your ‘DUP sources’ can give you the real story:

    What I got from DUP sources at that time was the substantive plank in the ministers defence yesterday, ie that he was not going to take a contract off one contractor who had been tested and spectacularly failed and give it to another who hadn’t been tested at all.

    Nothing to see here (WhatAbout the NIHE?).

  • Mick Fealty

    CS, I watched it live. But I’ve also been watching the story with interest for much of the last three years.. The programme gives the impression that nothing was done since Nelson took over in 2010…


    I see where you are going with that… One of the problems I have with the whole story is the way investigations stop with the very first actions of McCausland in office…

    The new minister instigated a broad review of NIHE contracts which found RedSky to be responsible for ten per cent of the fraudulent contracts…

    Now, he might have retained them after that report, but we’ll never know because the contracts were handed on to adjacent contracts…

    A full inquiry would look into all of these matters… The current motion as it stands does not…

    Lets hope that is what the DUP amendment looks for…

  • Comrade Stalin


    It sounds a bit like you are making a point out of something that is not in dispute. Nobody is saying that the problems coincided with the DUP’s arrival on the scene. The story here is the relationship between the DUP and Red Sky who are accused of being a bent supplier.

    The suggestion that nothing was done since Nelson took over in 2010 has some justification. The report – by Rowntree – into malpractice by contractors in general sat on Nelson’s desk for months and then was dusted off at around about the time the Spotlight team began asking awkward questions. Spotlight appear to have been implying that the report was pressed into service as a useful way to muddy the waters for the purposes of taking some of the focus away from the Red Sky-DUP relationship.

    I still don’t know where you get the idea that the Minister “put an end to a cosy relationship” when the allegation has been put that in fact he and the DUP sacrificed their bona fides in order to protect said cosy relationship. I know you have been following it for three years but nobody knew of that angle until last Thursday. Up until then I’d have given the DUP the benefit of the doubt.

  • ayeYerMa

    Red Lion, I very much doubt a DUP vote drop, rather the opposite. This latest BBCNI witch-hunt will merely re-affirm how many voters already view the BBC and much of our media. Given the existing prior media portrayal, and the almost nonexistent support from media commentators and the output from the inner media circle of trendy “liberal” luvvies, an outsider who only relied on our media comment for insight might be forgiven for not realising that the DUP are our largest party.

  • Morpheus

    “The spotlight will now move to Arlene Foster, with Chris Moore’s report on the Presbyterian Mutual Society on UTV Insight at 8p.m. on Monday. The PMS was under Foster’s department the whole way through the saga, wasn’t it?”

    Looks like DA was bang on:

    “Some loans at the ill-fated Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS) were granted on the back of an envelope, it has been alleged. A special investigation claims rules were ignored to provide huge loans to non-members, with more than £5.5 million was given out in unapproved loans and £100 million was handed over to seven property speculators

    The UTV Insight report – to be aired on Monday night – asks who was to blame for the collapse of PMS and looks at how it was allowed to gamble away millions of pounds of members’ money.

  • Harry Balzac

    Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.
    George Bernard Shaw

    So here we have our hard fought and hard won democracy, a minister accused of interference, a SpAd who by allegation has bullied a fellow party member, a party that uses a petition of concern for what has been described as nefarious reasons. Sinn Féin have been less than adequate in their pursuit of answers and a committee that looked like a toothless guard dog. The fact that neither the minister nor his special advisor has stepped aside under these conditions is not only worrying but it goes against precedents that the DUP already set themselves.

    Is this truly how a democracy should act. Is it truly the case that we live in a brown envelope society? How did red sky continue when they were charging for works in buildings that didnt even exist.

    why can we not have this investigated fully? Is the position of all SpAds in jeopardy? and what happens next?

  • Devil Eire

    Mick Fealty:

    Now, he might have retained them after that report, but we’ll never know because the contracts were handed on to adjacent contracts…

    On the contrary, we know that he made every effort to extend their contract. Further, once Red Sky had been placed into administration, he met with senior management (under dubious circumstances) to discuss the transfer of contracts to Red Sky’s successor company, Totalis Solutions.

    Yes, there are serious problems at NIHE but there are also serious issues relating to the Minister and his efforts on behalf of some NIHE contractors.

    Your heroic insistence (over multiple threads) on treating the existence of the former as a reason to ignore the latter is (as others have also noted) beginning to seem rather curious.

  • Gopher

    The petition of concern is interesting its kinda like nuclear weapons, you dont use them. I am sure SF are delighted that the DUP have been forced to unilaterally use the petition. There is now a tangible goal and it is now in the subconscious. People thinking it is a carve up now will be in for serious awakening if SF make those 30 seats and the DUP stay above that threshold. 41 disparate MLA’s serve no one. Man up and get into opposition