DUP is divided by plans to discipline whistleblower Jenny Palmer
Divisions within the DUP are opening after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the party is taking disciplinary action against a whistleblower.
Jenny Palmer is being accused of bringing the party into disrepute after claiming she was pressurised over a crunch vote on the board of the Housing Executive.
But now, senior party figures including MP Jeffrey Donaldson have strongly backed Mrs Palmer and promised her their continued support.
A statement from Mr Donaldson and all four Lagan Valley MLAs, including former Health Minister Edwin Poots, also voiced disappointment at the situation inside the party.
But it also struck a conciliatory tone, appealing for an attempt to reach an amicable solution "even at this late stage".
There is little doubt the decision to take action against the Lisburn councillor has caused dismay within the party.
The statement, also signed by MLAs Jonathan Craig, Paul Givan and Brenda Hale, stated: "We are disappointed that the situation has developed to this point.
"Councillor Jenny Palmer is a valued member of our local team in Lagan Valley where we have developed the strongest DUP team of any constituency in Northern Ireland.
"We have achieved this because we are not just an association but a family which seeks to support our members as they work hard to deliver for the people we represent.
"We will continue to provide that support to Jenny Palmer and we hope, even at this late stage, that this situation can be resolved amicably."
Sources in the association, normally reluctant to discuss internal party affairs, made no secret they were unhappy over the decision to move against Mrs Palmer. She has replied to the disciplinary summons and yesterday on Twitter she added: "I shall wipe away my tears today! and embrace the day that God has given.
"Time to sort others' problems in my constituency."
She broke a two-year silence to tell a BBC Spotlight investigation that a party special advisor, Stephen Brimstone, phoned her to attempt to change a vote the Housing Executive board was taking on extending contracts to the firm Red Sky.
But Mr Brimstone, who worked for then Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, denied telling her: "The party comes first - you do what you are told".
Following the broadcast, Mr Donaldson was among those present at a face-to-face meeting between Mrs Palmer and Mr Brimstone organised by Peter Robinson, which resulted in Mrs Palmer being offered a public apology.
But after five drafts, the wording has not been agreed and in January Mrs Palmer told the Social Development Committee, which is investigating the claims, she had been used as a "political pawn".
Story so far
The DUP is bringing disciplinary action against a councillor who claimed she was told "the party comes first - you do as you are told" by a senior party adviser. Whistleblower Jenny Palmer is being accused of bringing the party into disrepute after telling a Stormont committee she had been used as a "political pawn".
The Lisburn councillor broke a two-year silence to allege a senior DUP adviser tried to pressurise her over a crucial vote on the board of the Housing Executive.