DUP warning over another Nama probe at Stormont labelled smokescreen
Claims that a fresh Stormont inquiry into the Nama controversy would prejudice criminal investigations have been branded a smokescreen designed to thwart accountability.
Opposition parties heavily criticised a DUP warning over a further Finance Committee probe as the Assembly debated the furore surrounding Northern Ireland's largest ever property deal.
The DUP's partners in power sharing, Sinn Fein, also questioned the worth of a renewed committee inquiry, and the parties combined to successfully pass an amendment to an Ulster Unionist motion that removed reference to the call for a new probe by MLAs.
Allegations of wrongdoing surrounding the £1.2 billion deal between Nama - the Republic of Ireland's "bad bank" set up to dispose of bailed out lenders' higher risk loans - and US investment giant Cerberus are currently subject to an investigation by the UK's National Criminal Agency (NCA) and authorities in the Republic of Ireland and the US.
The UUP and fellow official Opposition party the SDLP were scathing on the stance of the Assembly's two main parties.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "There is an NCA investigation, which is an investigation - it is not a convenient excuse to ignore the will of this House."
The SDLP's Alex Attwood railed against the DUP for labelling the call for further Stormont scrutiny as "bizarre and perverse".
"The words perverse and bizarre are a smokescreen to deny accountability and let's be very clear about it," he said.
"Let not this chamber allow a smokescreen be sent out in relation to this matter through the voices of the DUP."
The 2014 sale of Nama's 800 Northern Ireland property assets has been dogged by controversy since £7 million linked to it was found in an Isle of Man bank account.
Subsequently, BBC Spotlight reported a series of taped conversations between developer John Miskelly and Frank Cushnahan, the former member of Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee.
One was about a handover of £40,000 cash in a hospital car park.
Parliamentary watchdogs on both sides of the border have examined allegations the transaction included multimillion-pound fixer fees while the Irish Government has announced an inquiry.
The DUP's role in the sale has been subject to particular public scrutiny in Northern Ireland, with former first minister Peter Robinson vehemently denying an allegation he was set to benefit and former finance minister Sammy Wilson defending his recommendation of Mr Cushnahan as a Nama adviser.
Mr Cushnahan and all other parties involved in, or linked to, the Nama sale have denied wrongdoing.
An Opposition day debate at Stormont heard calls for the Assembly's Finance Committee to renew its investigations into a transaction named Project Eagle.
The committee has already produced one report on the affair but the Assembly's smaller parties argued there was a need for further scrutiny.
The DUP's Emma Little Pengelly, who chairs the committee, cautioned against such a course. She said the NCA had privately warned the committee that additional probes could hamper its work.
She accused Opposition parties of indulging in self-publicity, branding calls for a new committee inquiry "bizarre and perverse".
"To debate, work, and inquire and add no value is pointless," she said.
"Worse than that, to debate, inquire and cause the investigation harm would be disgraceful and the exact opposite of what we are elected to do."
Sinn Fein, which supports an all-Ireland probe, also questioned what a further Stormont inquiry would achieve.
The party's John O'Dowd said it was "clear that something stinks at the heart of Nama".
But he expressed doubt the Finance Committee could get to the truth of it.
"I have no doubt that there will be great effort from the committee members and staff, but will it result in those responsible for wrongdoing around Project Eagle being brought to account? I do not believe so," he said.
Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, accused rival MLAs of using the NCA to "build a wall" around the issue.
"Does the House want to hide its head in the sand?" he asked.
"I understand that some to whom this comes too close do want to hide their head in the sand."