The DUP whistle blower at the centre of allegations about the conduct of Nelson McCausland’s ministerial adviser last night said that she spoke out because she was “tortured” by what had happened.
Lisburn councillor Jenny Palmer told the News Letter that she couldn’t sleep at night over what she says had gone on after claiming she had been told to change her vote at a key meeting of the Housing Executive board.
In an emotional interview with the BBC’s Spotlight programme, broadcast on Wednesday night, Cllr Palmer claimed that Mr McCausland’s special adviser, Stephen Brimstone, had put pressure on her to vote in favour of extending contractor Red Sky’s contract, despite it having overcharged taxpayers for work never done.
She said he told her “the party comes first, you do what you’re told”.
Last night Cllr Palmer said that she had “offered to resign that day”.
Mr Brimstone declined to be interviewed about that phone call but, in a letter to Spotlight, he said that was not an accurate reflection of the conversation and yesterday Mr McCausland stood by his adviser as a man of “integrity”.
In a robust defence of his closest aide, the DUP minister said that in several years working with Mr Brimstone he had “found him at all times to be a person of extremely high ability and [with] the highest level of integrity and I would say he gives the highest possible standard of service in all that he does.”
Last night Cllr Palmer — whose husband is also a DUP councillor — told the News Letter that she had received massive backing from grassroots DUP members after speaking out.
And she explained why she had taken the rare step of speaking out against a party colleague: “I couldn’t sleep at night because I knew that what had been done was wrong and I expect better from people, especially when they are charged with the governance of Northern Ireland.”
She said that she had spoken to her family before deciding to do the interview and added: “For two years I have been tortured by what was being played out in a political arena; I didn’t like it and I thought it was wrong — that’s the reason I spoke out.”
Since the broadcast, Cllr Palmer said she had received support from DUP members.
“Within the party, I’ve had some of my own local colleagues, colleagues from the party right across Northern Ireland ringing me, sending me text messages of support.
“I haven’t received one message — out of about 50 to 100 messages — that says I did anything wrong; I did everything with integrity; I told the truth and they [the messages] are all supporting me.
“The die-hard members of the branches have rung me personally to say ‘Jenny, we’re devastated for you; we’re really sorry it happened and we support you’.
“It gives me hope. I did nothing wrong; I told the truth and that’s all I can do.”
She said that the programme was “a revelation to me, in terms of some of the things that were on it”.
When asked if she wanted to stay in the DUP or if it was possible to do so, she said: “I hope I can. I have fantastic colleagues in the DUP and I believe in the policies of the DUP. They also know that I’ve worked under three ministers in the past and the DUP — while there have been issues that I’ve been uncomfortable with — all the other parties are no better.”
She said that this was just a single instance of inappropriate behaviour, rather than evidence of widespread problems in the party.
“[In terms of] the DUP in general, I find that all of my colleagues and the heart of the party is good.
“If there are elements there that stepped out of line, the lessons there are — they’ve got to be more responsible with the people of Northern Ireland.”