Nelson McCausland misled Assembly over a meeting which had no apparent or measurable effect…

Getting accused of ‘misleading the Assembly’ is problematic for any minister. So it is for Nelson McCausland in the majority report of his department’s oversight committee. The minority report (composed entirely of MLAs of his own party) takes his view that he had merely ‘inadvertently misinformed’ them.

The committee chair, Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey laid out the case in the majority report…

“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.”

The individual company was Turkingtons, and was the subject of a Spotlight documentary this time last year. What’s interesting though is that this is the single most serious accusation contained within either report.

That is it appears that this meeting appears to have had no discernable effect: ie, no one was sacked, or resigned, and no contracts properly or improperly awarded. Just an error or a misjudgement, whether it was inadvertent or through haste or intemperance (as in the case of how the DUP Lisburn councillor Jenny Palmer was dealt with).

If such incompetence were really a bar to office, an awful lot of Ministers would be in seriously hot water by now… Heaven forfend the committee might find time to take the Minister to task for his actual performance on housing policy…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Stiofain

    I think you’re a bit quick to jump to the conclusion of mere incompetence being the cause of this misleading, Mick. The Report states that everyone other than McCausland and Brimstone (the SpAd) – DSD officials, NIHE officials, the Turkington representatives themselves(!) – said that it was Turkington’s who were represented at that meeting.

    McCausland and Brimstone claim (seemingly on the basis of a highly selective reading of letters sent in advance of the meeting) to have presumed these people were there as GGF representatives – despite these letters making only fleeting reference to Turkington’s membership OF the GGF, and being signed off by ‘Ian Young/Jim McKeag, Turkington Holdings.’ Not only did they make this “error”, if we are to continue calling it that, they went on to vigorously ensure that this contrived and simply inaccurate view of the meeting was reflected in records of the meeting.

    And – oh yes – Turkington’s happen to be major donors to the DUP.

    The inference drawn by the average (wo)man on the street, if (s)he had the time and inclination to read and analyse the reams of evidence available in the Report’s appendices, is that Minister McCausland and SpAd Brimstone are not as buck-stupid as they would like everyone to believe.

    But, alas, as McCausland himself stated in one evidence session – ‘Some things are destined to remain unknown . . .’

  • mickfealty

    I’m speaking to the lack of evidence rather than making an absolute statement of fact. Hard to disagree with the majority report though.

    But to claim it was more than incompetence you’d have to show intent and at the very least an effect, and the committee has failed to do that.

    Authority of the Assembly leeching even further away…

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Mick – with respect, are you in full possession of the “effects”, because the intent is pretty clear, ie, to deliberately mislead/lie.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Whilst I don’t completely agree with Mick, what was the benefit of ‘purposely misleading’? There doesn’t seem to have been a benefit therefore the attemt to mislead was pointless.

  • gendjinn

    Well it’s been officially denied so according the Yes Minister we should now accept as fact that he misled the committee.

  • gendjinn

    Does McCausland look strikingly like Paul Krugman or is just the photo in the BBC report?

  • Morpheus

    On on April 16, 2012 Nelson McCausland and senior officials meet representatives of Co Armagh firm Turkington Holdings Ltd.

    Two weeks later on April 30, 2012 McCausland suspends double-glazing of Housing Executive homes over fears it is not delivering best value for money.

    Two weeks later on May 16, 2012 the minister’s former Private Secretary, Barbara McConaghie, amends minutes of meeting with Turkingtons, changing it to “Representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation” and the minister’s diary.

    On June 28, 2013 The Housing Executive confirms that at no time did it think that the representatives from Turkington Holdings Ltd were representing the Glass and Glazing Federation.

    The TUV’s Jim Allister said “The most damning aspect of the programme (Spotlight) was the way it dealt with the glazing contracts. After representations from a DUP donor, Mr Turkington, the Minister put on hold the glazing contracts so that those could be separated out from the general housing work and Turkington’s could directly contract on the windows front. Has DUP no shame?” he asked. “Did you learn nothing from the £5 land deals and the various property scandals of a few years ago?”


  • chrisjones2

    If it had ‘no effect’ why did it happen?

  • babyface finlayson

    “Getting accused of ‘misleading the Assembly’ is problematic for any minister”

    I disagree. It is just a matter of toughing it out to the next election or reshuffle and it will be forgotten about.
    No resignation, no loss at the polls, just business as usual.

  • Zeno

    It’s not OK for them to mislead the Assembley, but it is certainly OK for them to mislead the rest of us continously.

  • mickfealty

    Sergio, nope. And I’m not claiming to be. I am judging (however poorly) the actions of the minister against the findings of the report is all.

  • Morpheus

    And let’s not forget about Fusion 21 here….

    So on April 16, 2012 Nelson McCausland and senior officials meet Turkington Holdings Ltd and two weeks later McCausland suspends double-glazing of Housing Executive homes over fears it is not delivering best value for money.

    Two weeks later the minister’s former Private Secretary, Barbara McConaghie, amends

    1. minutes of meeting with Turkingtons, changing it to “Representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation” and

    2. the minister’s diary.

    Michael Sands, a senior civil servant in the Housing Division received an email from Fiona Lundy, who works in Mr McCausland’s office, saying the minister wanted the draft changed to omit all reference to Turkington Holdings, and say that the meeting was with the GGF as well as Fusion 21, a procurement body that was not present. This account of the meeting was supported by Jim McKeag of Turkington Holdings as well as John McPeake, the head of the Housing Executive, who attended the meeting.

    “I can only state what I actually prepared, and I prepared that draft based upon one meeting with Turkingtons. It was subsequently changed at the request of the minister to take out the reference to Turkington Holdings Ltd and to put in representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation and Fusion 21,” Mr Sands said.

    Maybe Jim had it right afterall – see above

  • Mister_Joe

    Joe, if you really want to know, there are lots of books available on the subject of why people lie. You can probably get one from your local library or perhaps just google it.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Mick – “deliberately misleading” reads “lied” to me. What could his motive be? Usually with the DUP first stop is stupidity, but this one just looks like your simple garden variety buy off. Meeting with big DUP donor gets air brushed away. Big donor gets contracts…simple graft.

  • Annie AuldIrn

    nail – hammer; hammer – nail

  • mickfealty

    The fact you have to ask, on such a grave charge, means that, by a rough and ready rule of thumb, you should not be making the accusation.

    The embarrassing absence here (and the sole reason I wrote the piece in the way I did) is that there was no contract.

    Truth is that Ben Bradlee was the hidden (and magic) ingredient in the Watergate story.

  • mickfealty

    There’s nothing to suggest he did not mislead the committee.

  • gendjinn
  • Joe_Hoggs

    Mister_Joe, I am under no illusion that there was a reason, my point is what was it?? If there was no reason then it makes the action even more farcical.

  • the rich get richer

    After this, Would you buy a second hand car from Nelson ?

  • Chris Browne

    I’m slightly unclear on your point here, Mick. I agree that perhaps focussing on the issues of the day with regards to social housing, rather than political point-scoring, would be appreciated. However, surely the very act of mis-leading the committee (or lying) is serious enough in itself?

    Criminal culpability requires the ‘actus reus and mens rea’ (one of the few things I remember from my Law degree). Surely if Nelson has both committed the act of mis-leading the committee and been of the mind to do so (i.e. not just incompetence), then this is a very serious issue irregardless of what the actual outcome was?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Accusing someone of being a liar is very serious and it could land you, or this website, in court.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Yeah Mick, but there is a very serious principle at stake here. Our constitutional system requires that ministers or assembly members in general do not mislead committees or the House itself – it is the most serious kind of political misconduct allegation that can be levelled. In the case of civil servants, misleading a minister could be career-ending.

    Once again I find myself questioning why we are continuing with this charade of devolution when political parties can shamelessly stick their thumb on the scales and get away with stuff like this.

  • mickfealty

    Serious? Yes. Criminal, eh, no. Nor is it anything like it on what the report presents.

  • mickfealty

    Quite. But it has become quite clear that the Legislative Assembly for much of its time functions as little more than an electoral college. It has no bite, since most members are clients of the Executive.

  • Chris Browne

    Sorry Mick, I either misspoke or you misread. I meant to use the criminal point to demonstrate the fact that surely the act of misleading warrants action and cannot simply be brushed aside because there were no ill effects arising.

    I did not mean to suggest that the act itself was criminal.

  • Mister_Joe

    Politicians elsewhere who have been ‘found out” doing much less than what the minister has been accused of, have frequently fallen on their swords and resigned, usually describing it as a matter of honour. Exception is in Northern Ireland where there seems to be no sense of shame among most of the Parties, well the biggest two anyway.

  • Roy Walsh

    Comrade, who, exactly, did I accuse?
    Mick appears to have been frightened by what you state but, if the civil service want to land me, or Mick in court for state gan honestly held opinion, i. E, that misled, as a word, is used to mean ‘lie’, I would welcome their intervention, clearly Mick would not but, this does not mean it’s any less honest that misleading the Assembly, and those of us whose taxes pay for it, was more than disingenuous.
    More than disingenuous might be taken to mean lie, and in this thread I simply stated what most of us, outside the DUP, actually believe but out politians are unwilling to actually state.

  • streetlegal

    Pants on fire!

  • Comrade Stalin

    Roy, accusing someone of lying is not the same as accusing them of misleading you. It is not wise to publicly use the word “liar” against anyone unless you are 100% sure of your ground. Any lawyer will tell you the same.

    Legal action is expensive and bankrupts people, so if you “welcome their intervention” you’re not wise. Especially given that, outrageously, MLAs who lose legal action get their costs paid by the Assembly.

  • Roy Walsh

    I wonder just where you did your LLB and professional studies comrade?
    As above, who did I call a liar?
    Answer that now and stop waffling, as above, I said the Minister was being more than disingenuous, I made a point on misleading being civil service speak for something else, so, again, quit the waffling, unless you can extract from what I originally stated was where I referred to an individual being a liar.