DUP rejects suggestion of unrest in local ranks

Councillor Jenny Palmer.

Councillor Jenny Palmer.

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Lisburn Councillor Jenny Palmer says there are signs of unrest among her former DUP colleagues on the city council, a suggestion rejected by DUP group leader James Tinsley.

Speaking at her first UUP conference since rejoining the party earlier this year, Mrs Palmer said some councillors, disturbed by her treatment at the hands of the DUP hierarchy, had in private messages indicated a desire to meet her to discuss their own positions, now and going forward.

Councillor James Tinsley.

Councillor James Tinsley.

They were unhappy, she said, with how things were unfolding in the DUP.

Alderman Tinsley however, speaking after the Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council DUP group meeting, said he had seen absolutely no signs of division in the ranks.

“We were very united on everything,” he said. “There were no issues or concerns raised whatsoever; everyone is singing from the same hymn-sheet about working for the betterment of the whole council area.”

Mrs Palmer’s comments came as she revealed her own ambition to stand in next year’s Assembly elections, something she insisted was in no way motivated by any desire for revenge after her very public split with the DUP.

“Obviously, I’m as ambitious as anyone else,” she said, “and I would like to be a part of changing Northern Ireland as we go forward, but I’m only into the party and that will be a decision for the party leader.

“Certainly, I think that if I’m asked, I would grasp the opportunity.”

Mrs Palmer, who left the Ulster Unionists to join the DUP in 2003, found herself embroiled in controversy after claiming in a BBC Spotlight programme that pressure had been brought to bear on her to vote in line with DUP minister Nelson McCausland’s position on the award of a Housing Executive maintenance contract.

Along with her husband, fellow Lisburn City councillor John Palmer, she resigned from the DUP - as it pursued disciplinary action against her for allegedly ‘bringing the party into disrepute’ - and the two soon thereafter joined the UUP.

There, she said, she was afforded freedom of conscience on issues such as her support for same-sex marriage.

Mrs Palmer said many of her constituents had “praised” her upon her return to the Ulster Unionist fold - in respect of which she had “only ever had one negative comment” - and indicated they would no longer be voting DUP.

She also criticised DUP leader Peter Robinson’s recent decision to promote special adviser Stephen Brimstone, the individual whom she alleged had put pressure on her over the Housing Executive contract, an allegation he denied.