Belfast Telegraph

DUP said adviser Stephen Brimstone was 'toast' over Red Sky row: whistleblower Jenny Palmer

By Rebecca Black

A DUP whistleblower has claimed her party described a special adviser as "toast" after he was accused of trying to pressure her into voting to support a troubled Housing Executive contractor.

Lisburn councillor Jenny Palmer was giving evidence to a Stormont committee investigating allegations about political interference in the housing body.

The committee is specifically probing if there was any impropriety or irregularity relating to contracts managed by the Housing Executive.

It was launched after a BBC Spotlight programme alleged wrongful interference, potential breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct and misleading of the Assembly and the Committee for Social Development.

Ms Palmer told the programme, aired on July 3, 2013, that Nelson McCausland's special advisor Stephen Brimstone had asked her to change her vote in a Housing Executive board meeting.

The vote concerned the termination of a maintenance contract belonging to the firm Red Sky. Ms Palmer said Mr Brimstone tried to pressure her into supporting a contract extension.

In almost two hours of evidence, she told the committee that Mr Brimstone became "aggressive" when she told him she could not agree to his request.

And she claimed it "beggars belief" why anyone would have wanted to keep the Red Sky contract, debunking her party's claims the company was being picked on because it was Protestant.

Ms Palmer said she was made to feel like a "sacrificial lamb" who was probably "deemed worthless", and she alleged that Mr Brimstone tried to influence her in a forceful manner.

She also revealed that she felt reluctant to speak to senior DUP figures about the alleged pressure, but that she eventually agreed to see party leader Peter Robinson and Mr Brimstone in a meeting at her home arranged by MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

At that meeting, Mr Brimstone apologised if he had done something to offend her.

A formal apology was due to be released by the party, but Ms Palmer rejected five drafts, claiming that each of them contained opinion and innuendo.

She told the Social Development Committee that the back-and-forth versions of the abandoned apology to her ran "out of control", hitting four pages long. It was never issued.

Ms Palmer also indicated that the DUP had not been minded to stand by the special adviser, adding that the party press officer told her: "Brimstone's toast".

She said: "I asked him (the press officer), 'What do you think will happen?' He said, 'We need to protect the minister and yourself as an elected representative'."

Following the evidence, SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly praised Ms Palmer as "a woman any party would be privileged to have as a member".

Mr Brimstone, who is still employed as a DUP special adviser, is due to give evidence to the investigating committee next week.

BBC Spotlight is understood to be making a follow-up programme concerning the allegations.

Story so far

Red Sky had a £7m contract with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) to carry out maintenance work on its properties. This contract was terminated in 2011 following concerns the company had engaged in widespread overcharging . The company went into voluntary administration on April 19, 2011. DUP whistleblower Jenny Palmer claimed that the then Social Development Minister's special advisor Stephen Brimstone tried to make her vote against the termination of their contract in her role as NIHE board member.

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