Four Lagan Valley MLAs refrain from publicly supporting Cllr Jenny Palmer in Social Dev debate and two vote against report

On Tuesday the NI Assembly debated a motion about the Committee for Social Development’s 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.

Locally within Lagan Valley DUP circles, there has been strong personal support for Councillor Jenny Palmer who appeared on a BBC Spotlight programme as a whistleblower. She alleged that the Social Development minister’s special advisor had phoned her to forcefully insist that she vote in favour of extending Red Sky’s contract at a Housing Executive board meeting. Given her knowledge of NIHE audit reports about Red Sky’s performance, Jenny Palmer chose to ignore that party advice.

In summary, the 1,100 page report found “evidence that the Minister became involved with contractual matters that, as advised by his officials were outwith his responsibility, and which rested solely with the NIHE and the [Red Sky] Administrator, BDO”. It found the evidence given by Lisburn DUP councillor Jenny Palmer to be “consistent, convincing and compelling” and was critical of the Social Development minister and his special advisor Stephen Brimstone. (That’s a gross simplification of the evidence and findings.) The committee’s report also contained a ‘minority’ appendix that represented the divergent view of the DUP MLAs on the committee (including Gregory Campbell and Sammy Wilson).

Sam McBride Assembly screengrabCentrally the minister (now replaced by Mervyn Storey) and his special advisor (who has since been promoted to be one of the First Minister’s special advisers) have received strong and public support by DUP MLAs and staff.

There was a noticeable absence of DUP MLAs in the chamber before the Social Development Committee motion [screengrab from Sam McBride’s tweet], presumably locked in a party meeting to decide how to best to handle the debate and perhaps discussing whether to put down a petition of concern?

Social Developmetn NoesSo how did the local Lagan Valley MLAs handle the debate?

  • According to the Official Record (Hansard), none of the four Lagan Valley MLAs spoke during the debate.
  • Paul Givan and Edwin Poots voted No (ie, supported the minority appendix and Nelson McCausland’s actions as minister).
  • No vote was recorded for Jonathan Craig or Brenda Hale.
  • Later in the day, both Jonathan Craig and Paul Givan raised issues in the Assembly chamber during Ministerial Questions.

Coincidently, Lisburn & Castlereagh Alderman Allan Ewart has just been appointed to replace Stephen Brimstone as Special Adviser to the Social Development minister.

This morning’s News Letter front page picks up on Jenny Palmer’s daughter’s tweet.

Despite five drafts, Jenny Palmer has yet to receive an apology from Stephen Brimstone. The councillor faces disciplinary action within the party. At one level it’s unsurprising that a councillor-turned-television-whistleblower should have to account for her unusual actions.

However it sharply contrasts with the treatment of Stephen Brimstone. “A key recommendation of the fact-finding report was that a formal disciplinary investigation should be initiated into the special adviser’s actions” and “the Minister decided that no further action was required”.

The boil has still not been lanced.

Social Development Committee chair Alex Maskey yesterday described it as “clearly holding accountability in contempt”.

A prerequisite for holding public office is to accept that one must be accountable for one’s actions in that role. To underpin that fundamental requirement, there must be appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that holders of public office can be held accountable. While there is currently a mechanism to investigate allegations in relation to the conduct of MLAs, no such equivalent mechanism is available for investigating alleged misconduct by Ministers. The Committee believes that procedures for establishing a mechanism for investigation and consideration of the findings of any subsequent report on allegations of inappropriate conduct made against Ministers should be taken forward as a matter of urgency. As per the Committee’s terms of reference for the inquiry, had such mechanism been in place, the Committee would have had no hesitation in referring the matter for consideration to the appropriate authorities, given the serious nature of the conclusions. The Committee considers it entirely inappropriate that the decision on whether to take forward a formal disciplinary investigation of the actions of a special adviser rests with the appointing Minister and considers that this procedure needs to be urgently reviewed.

The Committee also calls on the current Minister to publish the fact-finding report in full and, in the interests of accountability and transparency, to review the decision not to initiate the recommended formal disciplinary investigation of the actions of the special adviser. The Committee is of the opinion that the existing Civil Service guidelines and mechanisms for challenging Ministers in relation to their becoming involved in operational or contractual matters are not sufficiently robust and need to be reviewed urgently.

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  • Sergiogiorgio

    Surely Jenny Palmer must have some legal recourse? Could she not sue the DUP for constructive dismissal? I watched through some of her evidence and the clear bullying tactics of, in particular, Sammy Wilson, was offensive.

    I support Jenny Palmer!

  • Pete

    I have not looked into this much, so I could be talking nonsense, but I don’t understand the controversy over an adviser trying to persuade someone to change their vote. Is that not a similar idea to a party whip?

  • She hasn’t been dismissed. In fact in-between times she’s been re-elected to the new Lisburn 7 Castlereagh council and one of their most effective councillors.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I appreciate she hasn’t been dismissed, but if she “walked” she has a open and shut case. This is a full on DUP witch hunt.

  • If you’re appointed to the NIHE board, your first priority is not to stand up for the political wishes of the minister who has arms length oversight of NIHE. You’re there to make sure the organisation is financially sound, running properly, delivering its services fairly and efficiently, is taking account of the risks and issues it faces, and is planning properly for the future. Choosing to overlook audit reports that are critical of Red Sky and vote to extend their contract because that’s the minister’s wish – even if you’re the only board member likely to come to this bizarre conclusion – would not be the action of a good board member!

  • chrisjones2

    This is why people don’t vote

    The key question isn’t what the Minister did. It is WHY did he do it? Nobody seems to be asking that and the DUP seem desperate that they shouldnt

  • chrisjones2

    Why was that the Minister’s wish?

  • kalista63

    Once again, the inner machinations of the DUP is shown to the world as its it arrogant refusal to accept any reality other than what’s in their own tiny minds.

    The stand out moment had to be Gregory Camplbell besmirching a dead man and being put in his place by the man’s successor and assistant, at the time the alleged allegations occurred.

    It seems to me that the DUP have transplanted their infMous model of practice in Castlereagh to Stormont, barely challenged by other politicians or the media.

  • Granni Trixie

    Knowledge is power.
    That’s exactly what I and I suppose the public need to know.
    Only guessing but is there a self serving motive by any chance?

  • Lagan Valley Independent candidate Jonny Orr has penned an open letter to Cllr Palmer

  • chrisjones2

    Red Sky at Night
    But Nelson’s alright!!!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Say what mean Granny and be damned!

    We’re all thinking it!

  • Thomas Girvan

    Stephen Brimstone must have been badly advised.

  • murdockp

    it wouldn’t matter if one of them committed a serious crime, they would still circle the wagons and protest innocence. Put simple they lack the must fundamental of British values, decency.

    They are essentiall a cult no different to North Korea (Same goes for SF as well) their whole reason for existing is to received praise from their glorious leader with no regard for the electorate.

    I have no hesitation in saying that direct rule from Westminster would be better for normal people. These guys (and SF) are morally bankrupt. Stormont needs an opposition and an electorate who gives a damn.

  • notimetoshine

    Interesting thought, but are politicians ’employed’ by their respective political parties?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    A good point. Any “ambulance chasers”, sorry legal professionals know?

  • Gingray

    Lol now if it was Sinn Fein caught doing this, I think Alans blog would have a lot more comments – this has been massively ignored by the media and bloggers, not sure why

  • Gingray

    Fantastic summary Alan! And a great blog