A DUP adviser yesterday refused to answer numerous questions about the activities of his party — and then refused to answer when asked if he was doing so under instructions from the party.
Stephen Brimstone, who is special adviser (Spad) to Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey, was appearing before an inquiry into allegations made by his DUP colleague Jenny Palmer, who alleged that he put extreme pressure on her to change her vote at a Housing Executive board meeting to discuss a contract for the firm Red Sky.
It is the fifth time that Mr Brimstone has appeared before the committee. One previous hearing had to be halted after interruptions from DUP MLAs on the committee.
Yesterday Mr Brimstone faced an hour of forensic questioning from the TUV leader Jim Allister.
At the start of the hearing, Mr Brimstone had affirmed (the equivalent of an oath): “I, Stephen Brimstone, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be truthful and honest, and that I will give the committee all such information and assistance as I can to enable it to discharge its responsibilities.”
However, just minutes later Mr Brimstone refused to answer various questions from Mr Allister, as they related to the drafts of apologies to Cllr Palmer, none of which were ever finally agreed.
After saying he wouldn’t answer, Mr Brimstone repeatedly said “I refer to my previous answer” or “I’m not prepared to comment on internal party matters.”
Then, when asked by SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly if the DUP had told him to say ‘no comment’ to the questions, Mr Brimstone said: “I can’t comment...”
And committee chairman Alex Maskey pulled up the DUP’s Sammy Wilson when he told the hearing that DSD official Michael Sands had suggested Cllr Palmer had lied. Mr Maskey pointed out that Mr Sands had not said that about Mr Wilson’s DUP colleague.
Mr Wilson alleged that Mr Allister “bullied” Mr Brimstone.
By Sam McBride
In a strict legal sense, Stephen Brimstone’s tactic of refusing to answer some of the most pertinent questions about his conduct may have been clever. But when judged by the jury of public opinion, the Spad’s shifty-looking avoidance of the difficult questions is unlikely to have convinced many observers.
His tactic seemed wooden and defensive, in contrast to last week’s passionate and emotional testimony from Jenny Palmer, a woman who has possibly sacrificed her political career to speak out about this issue.
That is particularly significant for the DUP — where the public relations battle is as important for the sake of party unity, given that some senior members believe Cllr Palmer has been treated shabbily — as it is to retain votes in May’s election.
There was little new information revealed during yesterday’s hearing, but the lengths to which the DUP MLAs present seemed to be going to protect Stephen Brimstone are likely to increase rather than diminish interest in this inquiry.