A NIHE whistleblower has alleged that inappropriate influences being exerted on NIHE contracting processes led to Tughans receiving a number of lucrative contracts.
Frank Cushnahan- of Nama fame- was a former NIHE Audit committee member prior to leaving that post in order to take up position with Red Sky.
Red Sky became embroiled in controversy following the revelations of former DUP Councillor Jenny Palmer. Red Sky had benefited from remarkable sweetheart deals from the NIHE and in one astonishing example, when Frank Cushnahan negotiated with the NIHE on behalf of Red Sky, the now defunct company got a debt reduced from £250,000 down to £20,000.
A Northern Ireland Public Accounts Committee report in 2012 described Cushnahan’s role in the negotiations as “totally unethical”.
This report led to the resignation of Brian Rowntree. Mr Rowntree was at this time a member of the Nama NI Advisory committee alongside Frank Cushnahan since their appointment in 2010.
There were huge questions around a number of NIHE land deals, most notably the Millmount site where a £500,000 SPED scheme purchase led to a £60 million property developer profit.
Gareth Robinson was a lobbyist for firms linked to the Millmount site and the former DUP Finance Minister, Mr Sammy Wilson, was keen to raise the issue with Nama. The former DUP leaders son was also carrying out lobbying for Tughans when they received lucrative NIHE contracts and he worked closely with Nama bagman, Ian Coulter.
Property developer Paddy Kearney is now set to benefit from a purchase of the Millmount site. Peter Robinson wrote to Nama on behalf of Paddy Kearney. Kearney subsequently had over £300m of debt written off in a sweetheart deal with Cerberus.
The NIHE source described the organisation as “corrupted” and claimed that “the influence of Frank Cushnahan secured many lucrative deals for a particular circle of political and business associates.”
The NIHE whistleblower claims that “external influences” led to the awarding of lucrative contracts to Tughans. The legal firm were appointed on 01 November 2011 to the NIHE Ejectment Solictors panel and in 2012 to the NIHE Public Liability Solictors panel.
During the period of these appointments Frank Cushnahan, who had a remarkable influence with NIHE- as shown by the Red Sky scandal- was working out of an office in Tughans.
The DUP were also ultimately responsible for the NIHE via the Social Development minister Nelson McCausland.
Tughans were handsomely paid for their work on behalf of NIHE. A source within the Executive said “Tughans were the NIHE’s solicitor of choice for acting on their behalf when it came to taking tenants to court for falling behind on their rent.”
Explaining the lucrative payments the individual further explained “Their fee for doing so is £400 which is then passed onto the already in-debt tenant, who is clearly under pressure in the first place. People have became potentially homeless over this fee. It is a ridiculous amount of money for a two-minute court appearance, especially when they are doing a huge amount of them in a single sitting. It is purely an administrative process as the tenants very rarely turn up to them as there is very little they can do.”
There are huge questions for the NIHE over the influences exerted in order to secure Tughans such a lucrative contract.
There is, of course, much more to come in relation to Millmount. The scam was kick-started by an alleged “threat” that enabled the NIHE to purchase and then release the property for a knock-down price under the SPED scheme. One of the many key questions is who issued the threat?
A remarkable paper trial exists that shows the individual who bought the property from NIHE as a SPED purchase was actually a business partner of the same individual who sold it to the NIHE- for a profit- because he was allegedly “under threat”.