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O Muilleoir should step aside over Nama furore, but it's SF's call: Foster

By Noel McAdam

Published 27/08/2016

Calls: Mairtin O Muilleoir
Calls: Mairtin O Muilleoir

First Minister Arlene Foster says it is regrettable Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir has not stepped aside over Stormont's 'Brysongate'.

Breaking her silence yesterday, the DUP leader bolstered her party's demand for Mr O Muilleoir to stand aside pending an investigation into evidence that loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson was coached by Sinn Fein before giving evidence to the Stormont finance committee probing Nama.

As she voiced solidarity with predecessor Peter Robinson - who was named by Bryson at the hearing - Mrs Foster said: "It would be to the benefit of the institutions if he (Mr O Muilleoir) had stepped aside, even temporarily."

The First Minister said Twitter messages between Mr Bryson, then committee chair Daithi McKay, who resigned within hours of the revelations, and Sinn Fein activist Thomas O'Hara, who like Mr McKay has been suspended by Sinn Fein, were a "disgraceful attempt to discredit" Mr Robinson.

But she drew Ulster Unionist ire when she added: "Sinn Fein have decided he is to remain in place, and at the end of the day it is their call."

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said with the St Andrews Agreement the parties had fixed the Good Friday Agreement, after the latter had left ministers free to take "solo runs".

"In their (DUP) 2007 manifesto they stated 'Ministers will no longer be able to act alone, in narrow party interests'. Today, and not for the first time, that has proved to be baloney," Mr Nesbitt said.

"The Finance Minister and any other Sinn Fein minister will stay in position and remain in position entirely at the behest of Sinn Fein and joint First Minister Martin McGuinness. That is the reality of the SF/DUP coalition."

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said: "It says much about Mike Nesbitt that his focus is more on the DUP than Sinn Fein. He doesn't understand the concept of ministerial accountability or the changes that were made at St Andrews.

"There is no issue under the Ministerial Code to answer so the accountability mechanisms do not come into play. Either he is not aware of this, or he is mischief-making with the intention of letting Sinn Fein off the hook."

DUP, SDLP, UUP and TUV members of the Stormont finance committee combined on Tuesday to urge Mr O Muilleoir to stand down - with the only Sinn Fein member present, Caitriona Ruane, voting against.

But Mr O Muilleoir said: "There is no basis for me to step aside as Finance Minister and I have absolutely no intention of doing so."

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