Northern Ireland

Jenny Palmer says she was 'bullied' by DUP advisor Stephen Brimstone

Jenny Palmer
Image caption At one point, the Social Development Committee inquiry hearing was adjourned for a few minutes after Mrs Palmer broke down

A Democratic Unionist Party councillor has claimed a party special advisor "bullied" her during a phone call about a Housing Executive board meeting.

Jenny Palmer was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly's Social Development Committee.

It is holding an inquiry into allegations in a BBC Spotlight programme of political interference in the Housing Executive.

She said the advisor Stephen Brimstone told her to "do what the party wants".

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

'Sectarian manner'

Mrs Palmer told the committee that 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."

Mrs Palmer said: "If that's not bullying, I don't know what is."

DUP committee member Gregory Campbell put it to Mrs Palmer that the phone call would have been "pointless" because the board's decision was unanimous.

Mrs Palmer said she was one of only two unionist councillors on the 10-person board.

She referred to claims that the Housing Executive was "acting in a sectarian manner" in ending the contract with Red Sky.


She said: "The only conclusion I can come to 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."

DUP MLA Sammy Wilson claimed Mrs Palmer's evidence was "contradictory".

He referred to previous evidence she had given, and said: "Were you telling the truth the last time, or telling the truth now?"

Mrs Palmer said that when Mr Wilson had questioned her for 35 minutes in a previous hearing, it was "tantamount to bullying".

Mr Wilson said she had not claimed this when he had been carrying out the previous questioning.

Mrs Palmer said that she had been "perturbed" at the "near allegation" in previous hearings that she was a liar.

She told the committee: "I determined I would be using all the evidence I had so that everyone would know I would be telling the truth."

'Big hugs'

The councillor spoke about a meeting with party members, including leader Peter Robinson, Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson and Mr Brimstone.

She said that Mr Robinson had asked her what he needed to do "to put this right".

According to Mrs Palmer, she told him she wanted a public apology and Mr Robinson and Mr Brimstone agreed.

"Everyone in the room agreed that, we all gave each other big hugs and we went out the door," she said.

"Five drafts later we're still fighting over that apology."

At one point, the hearing was adjourned for a few minutes after Mrs Palmer broke down.


Mr Brimstone had been due to appear before the committee on Thursday also, but earlier this week the committee was notified that he was not available.

Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey, who chairs the committee, said "no explanation whatsoever" had been given.

Traditional Unionist Voice MLA Jim Allister said he thought the lack of an explanation "showed contempt".

Mr Brimstone is now expected to give evidence next week.

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