A serving DUP councillor last night wept on television as she claimed that the party had attempted to pressure her into voting to extend the contract of a firm which charged taxpayers for work that was never carried out.
In an unprecedented criticism of the party from a serving representative, Lisburn councillor Jenny Palmer, who is a member of the Housing Executive board, told BBC Spotlight that two years ago she had received a phone call from DUP minister Nelson McCausland’s special adviser, Stephen Brimstone, telling her to vote for the contract at a key board meeting.
Mr Brimstone, who declined to be interviewed for the programme, wrote to Spotlight saying that he rejected the “accuracy” of that account of the conversation and insisted that he had not put pressure on her about how to vote.
Cllr Palmer said that he told her that “he needed me to basically go against the decision of the board on the extension of the contract for Red Sky. I said to him: I don’t think I can do that.” She added: “He said: The party comes first – you do what you’re told, otherwise there is no point in [you] being on the board, if I wasn’t prepared to do what they asked me to do.”
Her claim was supported by the then chairman of the Housing Executive, Brian Rowntree, who said that she had approached him half an hour before that board meeting to tell him of the conversation with Mr Brimstone and that he had “never seen a board member so upset”.
After Cllr Palmer’s BBC interview, a solicitor’s letter to the BBC, arranged by the DUP, claimed that Cllr Palmer was unsure which parts of her interview were “on or off the record”. However, Cllr Palmer rejected that and gave a second interview. She said she was “like a lamb to the slaughter; I was worthless in their eyes; I was expendable”.
After seeing the interview, UUP MLA Ross Hussey said: “To see this lady in tears because she has been a woman of honour...what person feels they have the right to say the party comes first? You cannot put your party before people – what about the public? What about public money?”
Mr Rowntree told the programme: “I’m demanding a police inquiry into this issue; I’m demanding the Serious Fraud Office take this on board and, most importantly, I’m demanding an external independent inquiry.”
In a letter to the BBC, Mr McCausland said that his dealings in the Red Sky issue had been purely to ensure an “open procurement process”.
In a statement this morning the DUP said: “The BBC Spotlight programme contained a series of inaccurate claims and defamatory statements relating to the leader Peter Robinson, Minister Nelson McCausland and his adviser and other party representatives.
“The Party makes absolutely no apology for fighting to save the jobs of those who we believe were singled out and unfairly treated by the Housing Executive at that time. All political parties in east Belfast made strong representations on behalf of Red Sky, including those from both the Alliance and Ulster Unionist Party. Subsequent findings have demonstrated that four companies were identified as having overcharged in a way that dwarfed the scale of the Red Sky overcharging.
“All the meetings referred to during the course of the programme are a matter of public record.
“The Party has instructed lawyers to initiate action against Spotlight and a number of the participants on the basis of a series of inaccurate claims and defamatory statements contained within the programme. Such intolerable inaccuracies will be challenged using all available options and opportunities.”