Councillor maintains ‘bullying’ claims in evidence to committee

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Lisburn DUP Councillor Jenny Palmer at one point broke down briefly while giving

evidence to the Assembly’s Social Development Committee last week.

It forced a short adjournment of the hearing, part of the committee’s inquiry into allegations - levelled in a BBC Spotlight programme - of impropriety or irregularity relating to Housing Executive managed contracts.

Maintaining earlier assertions that DUP special advisor Stephen Brimstone “bullied” her during a phone call about a Housing Executive board meeting, Councillor Palmer reported an ongoing fight over what she claimed was a promised public apology. She listened too, as party colleague Sammy Wilson described her evidence as “contradictory”.

In 2013 Mrs Palmer told BBC Spotlight that Department of Social Development special adviser Mr Brimstone telephoned her to ask her to vote against a proposal to terminate a contract with the maintenance firm Red Sky.

Last week she told the committee Mr Brimstone had said: “You do what the party wants or there’s no point in you being on the board of the Housing Executive.”

If that wasn’t bullying, she said, she didn’t know what was.

DUP committee member Gregory Campbell put it to Mrs Palmer that, as the board’s decision was unanimous, the phone call in question would have been “pointless”.

Mrs Palmer said she was one of only two unionist councillors on the 10-strong board and she referred to claims that the Housing Executive was acting “in a sectarian manner” in ending the Red Sky contract.

“The only conclusion I can come to,” she said, “is the fact that I would have been used as a pawn in the game of politics, to say the sectarian card was alive at the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.”

In describing Mrs Palmer’s evidence as “contradictory” DUP MLA Sammy Wilson asked of her latest, and previous, evidence: “Were you telling the truth the last time, or telling the truth now?” When Mrs Palmer described his, Mr Wilson’s, lengthy questioning of her at an earlier hearing as “tantamount to bullying”, he noted she had not claimed so at the time.

The Lisburn councillor said of previous hearings she had been “perturbed” by the “near allegation” that she was a liar.

“I determined I would be using all the evidence I had so that everyone would know I would be telling the truth,” she said.

Of a meeting with party members, among them leader Peter Robinson, Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson and Mr Brimstone, at which she claimed Mr Robinson had asked her what he needed to do “to put this right”, Mrs Palmer said she asked for a public apology, to which Mr Robinson and Mr Brimstone agreed, but which had yet to be delivered.

“Everyone in the room agreed that,” she said.

“We all gave each other big hugs and we went out the door.

“Five drafts later we’re still fighting over that apology.”

Mr Brimstone had been due to appear before the committee that same day, but earlier in the week the committee was notified he was not available.

According to committee chairman, Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey, no explanation was given.

Mr Brimstone was subsequently due to give evidence this week.