Palmer retains board role after behind-closed-doors debate

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In what’s been hailed a victory for common sense, Lisburn Councillor Jenny Palmer has kept her place as a council representative on the Lagan Valley Regional Park board.

What’s understood to have been a lengthy and acrimonious debate, behind closed doors this week, ended with Mrs Palmer - an independent Unionist since her much publicised split with the DUP - unopposed as the Development Committee’s only nominee.

The DUP - purportedly in pursuit of cross-community representation - had previously nominated the SDLP’s Councillor Pat Catney to the role of one of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council’s three allotted members on the LVRP board.

The two other roles having been filled via the Leisure Committee, Mr Catney would have replaced Mrs Palmer, a long serving representative on the board and its chairperson for around the last 18 months.

Elected to the role, the SDLP councillor, however, subsequently declined the nomination amid allegations that the vote had been rushed through council as part of a concerted DUP effort to oust Mrs Palmer.

His announcement was welcomed by the other parties in council, who had weighed in behind a ‘call-in petition’ raised by Alliance’s Alderman Stephen Martin with a view to revisiting the vote.

After this week’s meeting a delighted Councillor Palmer said it had been “ a testing time” but, while not personally involved in the call-in, she was glad “common sense prevailed”.

“I am humbled by the confidence that was placed in me in returning me to the board of the Lagan Valley Regional Park,” she added.

“I love the challenge in the environment.

“It’s something I’m very passionate about and I think there are massive opportunities going forward under the new Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council to develop and enhance the whole package of Lagan Valley Regional Park, in conjunction with the Lagan Canal Trust.”

Mrs Palmer’s thanks went to members of the UUP, Alliance Party - in particular Mr Martin - TUV, NI21 and SDLP.

There were thanks too for her husband, Councillor John Palmer, also an independent Unionist since parting ways with the DUP. “He has been my rock though all of this,” she said.

Alderman Martin, meanwhile, said he was delighted the call-in procedure had worked but he lamented the fact the debate was held in committee.

‘It was highly regrettable,” he said, “that the debate was deemed to be confidential, despite a challenge from ourselves, as I believe the public had a right to hear the contributions made by councillors about Jenny Palmer’s place on the board and how there had been an attempt to remove her.

‘While it is disturbing that it ever had to come to this, common sense and good governance prevailed.”

Deputy Mayor and Ulster Unionist Councillor Alexander Redpath was likewise delighted with the outcome.

“Jenny is a very committed member (of the LVRP board)and the current chair,” he said.

“ The UUP steadfastly supported Jenny through this entire ordeal. I was pleased to sign the call-in document referring this decision back to council and our group was unanimous in our support of Jenny’s continued involvement on this board.”