DUP Councillor Jenny Palmer appeared at today’s Committee for Social Development ‘Inquiry into allegations, arising from a BBC NI Spotlight programme aired on 3 July 2013, of impropriety or irregularity relating to NIHE managed contracts and consideration of any resulting actions’.
Under oath Councillor Palmer restated her claim that Stephen Brimstone had telephoned her in an attempt to bully her to change her vote at a Housing Executive board meeting, considering the termination of a maintenance contract by the firm, Red Sky.
Sitting before the committee to give evidence under oath, Jenny Palmer said that prior to a Housing Executive meeting she was called by Nelson McCausland’s Special Advisor, Stephen Brimstone, who told her to vote against the board, because the party comes first. Councillor Palmer said she was shocked and had to ask Mr Brimstone to repeat what he had said.
Following the phone call, when Councillor Palmer raised concerns for her integrity in what had happened, a meeting was organised for her with party members, including Stephen Brimstone, DUP party leader Peter Robinson and Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson.
At the meeting Councillor Palmer alleged that Mr Brimstone said he was a Christian and wouldn’t have asked her to do that. Then Mr Brimstone agreed with what she said and the First Minister asked her what it would take to put the situation right.
Councillor Palmer said they agreed an apology was the best way forward, but she is still waiting for one. Then she produced copies of five draft apologies, which she has refused to accept due to changes made which she claims contain opinion and innuendo.
Everyone in the room agreed that. We all gave each other big hugs and went out the door. Five drafts later, we’re still fighting over that apology
Reiterating the point that she expected things to be delivered, Councillor Palmer said they never where.
In four years of sitting on the Housing Executive Board (2007-2011), Councillor Palmer said she had never been contacted by the party about it before. After this incident she felt like a pawn that had been used in a game of politics.
Councillor Palmer said that when Senior DSD Civil Servant Michael Sands had arrived at a Housing Executive board meeting he told the members that he had no role to be there and even her secretary said that it was unusual to see him there. Following the meeting she said that Mr Sands asked her about an email that had been sent to the HE Board Chairman, but she said she knew nothing about it. Councillor Palmer said she didn’t understand why Mr Sands had attended the meeting, or asked her about the email and said she had to assume that he had spoken to Mr Brimstone before attending the meeting.
At one stage in the ongoing proceedings Councillor Palmer said she was delighted when she heard that Mr Sands could verify her evidence from when they spoke. But today under questions from Jim Allister arising from the BBC Spotlight programme, Mr Sands told the committee: “I honestly cannot remember.”
Next followed a line of questioning as Gregory Campbell and Sammy Wilson played bad cop bad cop on Councillor Palmer for over an hour. Eventually committee chair Alex Maskey MLA reminded everyone that people giving evidence were under oath to tell the truth and Councillor Palmer said: “I have told the truth, the whole truth and I have been completely honest.”
Stephen Brimstone had also been due to appear at today’s meeting but as Jim Allister tweeted was “not available.” Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey said “no explanation whatsoever” had been given for Mr Brimstone’s absence, which Mr Allister described as “showing contempt.” This has led some to question whether the DUP have finally grasped the seriousness of appearing at an Assembly Committee meeting and giving evidence under oath.