Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Housing Executive whistleblower 'too stressed to think' amid row

Nelson McCausland
Nelson McCausland

The whistleblower behind allegations about political interference in the running of the Housing Executive last night spoke of the stressful impact of the controversy.

But DUP councillor Jenny Palmer refused to reveal if she will agree to meet party leader Peter Robinson to discuss concerns she raised in the BBC Spotlight programme.

Housing Minister Nelson McCausland has denied personal involvement in the awarding of property maintenance deals by the Housing Executive, despite claims his staff pressured Mrs Palmer, a member of the organisation's governing board, in an effort to extend a multi-million pound agreement with Red Sky.

Yesterday Mr Robinson admitted he did not know who to believe.

He said: "The question was asked who I believe in terms of Jenny Palmer and Stephen Brimstone.

"I did consider yesterday inviting them to come and see me. I considered that again because I felt that if I did so I would be immediately accused of trying to influence or press-gang someone.

"I put this out quite openly to Jenny and Stephen, if either of them wants to come and see me and speak about the issues I'll be very happy to receive them and talk about the issues.

"But I certainly can't reach any conclusion without speaking to them."

Last night Mrs Palmer declined to say whether she would meet Mr Robinson, adding it was something which she "doesn't want to talk about right now".

She told the Belfast Telegraph: "I'm not going to make any comment on that."

Asked if she thought a meeting may be valuable, she said: "I'm not making any comment. I'm just too stressed to even think about anything."

She said controversy had taken a toll but claimed that she had received backing from a wide range of people.

She added: "I've had cards, flowers, phone calls, emails and texts, all supporting me."

Mr Brimstone has said he did not accept the accuracy of the account of events given in the Spotlight programme.

The Housing Executive has suffered a series of scathing reports about shoddy workmanship and financial irregularities involving contractors and the Assembly is to hold a special meeting on Monday to discuss the latest disclosures.

The First Minister was flanked by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore at the North South Ministerial Council Meeting at Dublin Castle as he addressed the controversy.

Meanwhile, the PSNI faced calls from Mr McGuinness to launch an investigation after separate allegations of corruption at the Housing Executive, unrelated to any DUP member, were broadcast.

Ms Palmer, an NIHE board member, has said she was put under pressure by her party to change her vote at a board meeting called in July 2011 to discuss the Housing Executive's contract with Red Sky.

Its £8million-a-year deal had been terminated four months earlier amid allegations the East Belfast firm had overcharged for work on NIHE properties.

The Executive was to vote on a request from Mr McCausland to extend the NIHE contract, which the minister said was so arrangements could be put in place for a proper re-tendering process.

Red Sky has admitted it mistakenly charged the Executive for work on two apartment blocks that no longer exist.

The firm, which employed 450 people, was ultimately placed in administration.

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