Belfast Telegraph

Questions still remain despite DUP's apology to whistleblower: MLA

BY JOANNE SWEENEY

A DUP apology to party whistleblower Jenny Palmer will not make questions over political interference in housing contracts disappear, an MLA has said.

Lisburn councillor Mrs Palmer told the BBC's Spotlight programme last month that she had been put under pressure to change her vote in a Housing Executive board meeting.

Mrs Palmer said that the pressure came in the form of a phone call from Stephen Brimstone, a special adviser to Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland.

She said she had been asked to vote against the board's decision to stop a housing maintenance contract for controversial firm Red Sky.

The DUP minister had requested that the contract be extended.

Visibly distressed during her television interview, Mrs Palmer said that Mr McCausland's adviser told her: "The party comes first – you do what you're told."

The day after the broadcast the DUP said the programme contained inaccurate claims and defamatory statements, while Mr McCausland denied allegations he had abused his position.

Mr Brimstone later wrote to Spotlight to reject the accuracy of Mrs Palmer's comments, insisting that he had not put any pressure on her how to vote.

But she stuck to her story.

Now it has emerged that the DUP is to apologise to Mrs Palmer.

According to veteran reporter Eamonn Mallie, the apology was agreed at a meeting between Mrs Palmer, party leader Peter Robinson, Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Mr Brimstone.

"I am told when councillor Palmer went to shake hands with Mr Robinson at the end of the meeting, he chose to give her a hug," said Mr Mallie.

He said Mrs Palmer was promised that the statement would underscore her integrity.

But Ulster Unionist Assembly Member Michael Copeland said that while the apology would be welcome, "it will not make these serious allegations of political interference disappear."

"Two questions remain. Was the special adviser acting on behalf of his minister, Mr McCausland? If so, the position of the minister is untenable," said the UUP's social development spokesman.

"If that is not the case, and the special adviser acted alone, then his position becomes untenable."

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