Sinn Fein replaces McKay at Stormont with former MLA
A senior Sinn Fein figure who once ruled out seeking re-election to the Assembly has become the party's newest MLA.
Philip McGuigan is to replace Daithi McKay, who resigned last week hours after revelations he helped coach loyalist protester Jamie Bryson to give evidence about the Nama property sale scandal to a Stormont committee probing the issue.
Ironically, 43-year-old Mr McGuigan, a former Assembly Member, stood aside to let Mr McKay run for the seat in 2007.
Under Assembly rules there is no need for any by-elections when vacancies occur, even in the crisis circumstances of Mr McKay's departure.
But Sinn Fein only had until today to decide on a co-option candidate to replace the former chair of the Assembly finance committee, who has also been suspended from the party.
There was no comment yesterday from Mr McGuigan on the situation that led to his return to the Assembly benches.
Now a Ballymoney councillor - which under the rules against double-jobbing he will have to give up - he is a former GAA star with two All-Ireland Hogan Cup medals and numerous Ulster and county medals.
He took up an internal party position while serving as a councillor and said he had "reluctantly" decided not to seek re-election.
"I have reluctantly decided not to seek re-election to the Assembly at this time," said when he stepped aside.
"I have enjoyed my time as an MLA but I now feel that the time is right to pursue this new direction within the party at this challenging time."
Yesterday Sinn Fein chief whip Caral Ni Chuilin said the decision followed consultation with Sinn Fein activists in North Antrim, followed by approval by the party's ard chomhairle (executive).
"Philip is an excellent public representative and has served as a councillor in the area since 2001 and was an MLA for North Antrim from 2003 to 2007," she said.
"I have no doubt that with Philip's return to the Assembly we will continue to provide first class representation to the people of North Antrim."
The former Culture and Arts Minister added: "I wish him well and look forward to working alongside him in the Assembly."
Mr McKay, meanwhile, was not available yesterday to make clear whether he will agree to give evidence to the new finance committee over its investigation into how blogger Bryson was told how to present evidence against former First Minister Peter Robinson.
DUP, SDLP, Ulster Unionist and TUV members of the committee agreed to write to Mr McKay at a special meeting on Tuesday, with only Sinn Fein member Caitriona Ruane voting against.
Committee chairperson Emma Little Pengelly of the DUP said the claims involving Mr McKay had raised qustions about the integrity of the committee's report into the controversial purchase by Cerberus of Nama's £1.2bn property portfolio.
The former junior minister said any inquiry must be evidence-based and fair to everyone - but the ability of committees to act objectively in their inquiries was at stake as a result of the Bryson disclosures.
In his appearance before the committee last September, it is alleged that Mr Bryson was coached in naming the then DUP leader in relation to allegations he was to gain financially from the property portfolio sale - claims which Mr Robinson dismissed as "scurrilous and ill-founded".