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Martin McGuinness: Claims Sinn Fein knew about Jamie Bryson contact are 'ludicrous'

Sinn Fein suspends party worker Thomas O'Hara over 'Jamie Bryson contact'

Published 19/08/2016

Jamie Bryson gave explosive evidence to Stormont's finance committee about the efforts of Ireland's bank for bad loans to dispose of its Northern Ireland portfolio to US investors
Jamie Bryson gave explosive evidence to Stormont's finance committee about the efforts of Ireland's bank for bad loans to dispose of its Northern Ireland portfolio to US investors

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has dismissed as "ludicrous" claims the Sinn Fein leadership knew that former MLA Daithi McKay had been communicating with loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.

Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness said he wanted to see the inquiry expedited swiftly.

"I do believe the outcome of that will vindicate everything that I have said in the course of the last 24 hours about the non-involvement of the Sinn Féin team at the assembly," he said.

"I have absolutely no concerns about that whatsoever."

The Sinn Fein North Antrim Assembly member and Committee chairman Daithi McKay has apologised and resigned from the Assembly. He said his contact was inappropriate but denied coaching Mr Bryson.

Sinn Fein also suspended Party worker Thomas O'Hara after was accused of communicating with loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson before he gave explosive evidence to Stormont's finance committee about the efforts of Ireland's bank for bad loans to dispose of its Northern Ireland portfolio to US investors.

A Sinn Fein spokeswoman confirmed Mr O'Hara had been suspended.

The party has said it would welcome an investigation into claims about its members' conduct.

Mr Bryson was preparing to name former Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson in connection with the case.

The then first minister strongly denied seeking to benefit from the agreement involving US investors and the National Asset Management Agency (Nama).

Mr McKay was the mercurial face of Sinn Fein's youth generation who spent more than a decade working for the party in North Antrim on causes like the environment.

His fall from grace was precipitated by claims in Belfast newspaper the Irish News about his contact with Mr Bryson.

The Irish News reported what it said were leaked messages between Mr Bryson and Sinn Fein Twitter users including Mr McKay.

Meanwhile Mr Bryson has issued statement denying he was behind the leaking of the communications with Mr McKay. The loyalist blogger also he had "began the legal process of making an application to the Secretary of State under the inquiries act, asking for a full public inquiry into the Nama scandal." Mr Bryson's full statement is below.

The deal two years ago by Nama with US investment giant Cerberus, involving the £1.2 billion sale of a Northern Ireland property loan portfolio, has been dogged by controversy after £7 million linked to it was found in an Isle of Man bank account.

Critics have claimed the arrangement included multimillion-pound fixer fees.

None of the Twitter messages indicated that Nama-related information came to Mr Bryson from Sinn Fein.

Nama was established in Ireland at the height of the financial crisis to take property-linked loans off the books of bailed-out banks.

It sold 800 property loans to Cerberus, a multibillion-pound fund.

The £7 million was paid into an account controlled by a former managing partner of Belfast-based law firm Tughans, Ian Coulter, who resigned after it was unearthed.

Tughans, which was involved in the Nama transaction as subcontractor for Cerberus's US lawyers, Brown Rudnick, insisted it was not aware of the transfer.

All parties involved in the 2014 transaction have denied wrongdoing.

DUP chairman Maurice Morrow has submitted a complaint about Mr McKay to the Assembly Standards Commissioner founded on Stormont's code of conduct which binds assembly members to act with integrity and not bring the body into disrepute.

Sinn Fein chief whip Caral Ni Chuilin said: "Sinn Fein welcomes the involvement of the Assembly Standards Commissioner and we will fully co-operate in any investigation.

"This investigation should be conducted swiftly and its conclusions expedited so that the facts are clearly established."

Sinn Fein will have to co-opt another party member to take over from former North Antrim assembly member Mr McKay within the next seven days to avoid triggering a by-election.

Jamie Bryson full statement

"There has been much commentary in recent days around the revelations that have surfaced in the media. I wish to place on record that I was, in no shape or form, the leak of this back channel. I suspect there is a more sinister agenda behind that particular issue.

"Nevertheless, I in no way regret my engagement in such communications and furthermore I believe that it benefitted me and assisted my preparations for my appearance before the committee which resulted in vital public interest evidence being aired.

"I am as opposed to Sinn Fein as I ever was. My enemies enemy was never my friend, but rather a useful tool in my pursuit of a vital public interest story. If Sinn Fein were manipulated, as what is in the public domain appears to suggest, then that is a matter for Sinn Fein.

"As for those who have read headlines and somehow convinced themselves I am in someway a friend of Sinn Fein, they display their own lack of political awareness and inability to see the wood for the trees. Almost every political party, apart from Sinn Fein, have now claimed the DFP committee inquiry is tainted. Prior to this development Sinn Fein are on record calling for a public inquiry.

"Accordingly, I have began the legal process of making an application to the Secretary of State under the inquiries act, asking for a full public inquiry into the Nama scandal. I would be astounded if all political parties would not also support such a public inquiry.

"If the Secretary of State refuses to initiate such an inquiry the option to judicially review this decision will be open, and therefore the opportunity to air much of the Nama evidence in court will surface.  I stand over every piece of my evidence to the DFP committee.

"On the foot of legal advice I will be making no further comment on the allegations carried in the media given that the entire Nama issue will now be subject to an application to the Secretary of State for a full public inquiry."

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