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Huge number of unanswered questioned must be investigated by proper inquiry

By Sammy Wilson

Published 19/08/2016

There is still a lack of understanding about the extent and seriousness of the collusion between Sinn Fein's former finance committee chairman and the so-called loyalist Jamie Bryson.

Prior to the hearing, Bryson had claimed on his blog that a number of people had been involved in unlawful activity in relation to the Nama sale to Cerberus.

To this day he has not provided anything that amounts to evidence to support his claims.

However, because he could not provide any proof for his baseless allegations it was clear to any reasonable and sensible person that Bryson would use the committee hearing to make defamatory statements.

And by virtue of the Assembly's privilege, the press and media would publish the unfounded allegations without the damaged parties having recourse to legal proceedings against them.

The committee therefore considered whether his evidence should be taken in a private session with a sanitised version of the record of evidence published later.

However, the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Sinn Fein, for political reasons, wanted the session in public to allow damage to be caused.

In order to get a majority of members to agree to such an approach, the committee determined to allow him to make his statement but that the chairman had to stop the broadcast of the proceedings if Bryson strayed outside the conditions the committee set out.

McKay and others in Sinn Fein therefore coached Bryson as to how he could break the committee restrictions and make his defamatory comments without being stopped. It was a deliberate, politically motivated act to cause damage to a political opponent and a blatant abuse of the chairman's power and position.

No weasel words to obfuscate and disguise his intentions will wash.

If ever there was a case of malfeasance in public office this was it, and the police must investigate this matter.

In addition, it was the most outrageous breach of the Assembly's standards and privileges and is both actionable and subject to sanctions by the Assembly.

McKay's resignation is an attempt by Sinn Fein to draw a line under the collusion with Bryson and to protect others who were also involved in the abuse of the committee inquiry.

There also needs to be similar investigations into the alleged role of the present Finance Minister.

We already know that he had a close business relationship with Gareth Graham, who was given a platform at the committee inquiry to make similar allegations to those made by Bryson.

Mairtin O Muilleoir failed to declare the financial connections between Graham and his newspaper business, and his line of questioning throughout the inquiry shows his promotion of this witness's case.

Now it has emerged that he was to be a key player in the carefully orchestrated Jamie Bryson/Sinn Fein assault on Peter Robinson and Frank Cushnahan.

It is inconceivable that all those who had a part to play in this charade had not been briefed, especially since the Bryson session at the inquiry went exactly as outlined in the leaked plan.

If this is the case, then O Muilleoir is as guilty as McKay of abusing Assembly rules, and that is why I have asked the Standards Commissioner to investigate the allegations made about the part which he played.

Sinn Fein desperately want this issue to go away. The Finance Minister O Muilleoir is too important an asset for them to lose.

But I believe that all parties in the Assembly should want his role investigated, otherwise the Assembly will be further tarnished, and those damaged by the completely unsubstantiated accusations made under Assembly privilege will have been denied justice.

Everyone needs to be clear that it is not a case of a member representing a constituent.

When a committee is in inquiry mode it is acting as a quasi-judicial body - its members act as judges - and must uphold the highest standards of impartiality and fairness. This did not happen.

The courts should be given the opportunity to consider these matters and judgment to lay down standards to be followed in future.

Belfast Telegraph

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