Stormont finance committee to discuss Jamie Bryson 'coaching' claims as minister Mairtin O Muilleoir denies link to contact with loyalist blogger
Claims to link me 'petty politicking' says Sinn Fein MLA
The Stormont finance committee is to meet on Tuesday to discuss the claims Jamie Bryson was 'coached' ahead of his appearance in front of its MLAs.
It comes as the Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir distanced himself from the scandal.
Last week Daithi McKay, the former chair of the finance committee, quit as an MLA following claims he was involved in coaching Mr Bryson ahead of his appearance to give evidence for its Nama inquiry.
Mr McKay apologised and said his contact with Mr Bryson was "inappropriate, ill-advised and wrong".
A fellow Sinn Fein member Thomas O'Hara was also suspended from the party when the private Twitter messages were leaked to the BBC and The Irish News.
On Monday morning Alliance MLA Naomi Long joined with UUP leader Mike Nesbitt to call for the south Belfast MLA O Muilleoir to step aside to allow for an investigation to discover who else was aware of the back channel set up for Jamie Bryson.
Mr O Muilleoir was a member of the committee at the time of the hearing.
"We need to be very clear who else on the committee was aware of that back channel," Naomi Long told the BBC.
However, in response Mr O Muilleoir denied any knowledge of the links between Mr McKay and Mr Bryson.
He said: "The attempts to link me to the contacts between Daithí McKay, Thomas O'Hara and Jamie Bryson are no more than petty party politicking.
"They have absolutely no basis in truth or fact. I had no part in or knowledge of these inappropriate communications.
"I will co-operate readily and fully with any investigation. I am absolutely confident the outcome of any such investigation will confirm that I was totally unaware of these contacts until they were publicised this week.
"My political opponents will also have their chance to contribute to the investigation but if they do they will be required to present evidence rather than speculation or innuendo. I am confident in predicting that they will fail to do so."
Sinn Fein said it will cooperate with any investigation while Martin McGuinness dismissed as "ludicrous" claims the Sinn Fein leadership or other members of its Assembly team knew that former North Antrim MLA Daithi McKay had been communicating with Mr Bryson.
An investigation is needed into the role the Finance Minister played in the abuse of his own departmental committee.
Former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson confirmed over the weekend that the west Belfast company director O Muilleoir, who was the most senior party member of the panel, is the DUP’s next political target following revelations of how Jamie Bryson was coached by Sinn Fein members to ensure he could mention Peter Robinson’s name before a Stormont Committee.
“We are going after Mairtin O Muilleoir next,” the East Antrim MP claimed.
Sammy Wilson confirmed that on Friday he made a further complaint about alleged misconduct by the current Finance Minister to veteran Welsh barrister Gerard Elias who is currently examining an existing complaint about the Stormont Finance Committee’s investigation into the Nama scandal.
“I have referred this latest episode based on the Bryson revelations to Mr Elias but so far have not received a response from him. I referred it to Mr Elias because the Stormont Standards Commissioner Mr Bain refused to handle the original complaint against McKay and O Muilleoir,” he said.
The DUP, Alliance and the Ulster Unionist Party have all demanded that Mr O Muilleoir steps aside as a minister until investigations into the Bryson controversy are concluded.
SF chief whip Caral Ni Chuilin said: “Sinn Fein welcomes the involvement the Assembly Standards Commissioner, and we will fully cooperate with any investigation.
“This investigation should be conducted swiftly and its conclusion expedited so that the facts are clearly established.”
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has called on the First and Deputy First Ministers to bring all Stormont committee chairs together to review policy and practice regarding interaction between committees and witnesses.
“Some witnesses have legitimate concerns and questions about what to expect when they appear before a Stormont committee.
“We need to agree a new set of protocols to ensure a clear line is drawn, identifying what is and is not acceptable behaviour by committee chairs and members, with defined sanctions for those who overstep the mark,” he said.
He also said that historical analysis of Sinn Fein statements would demolish Martin McGuinness’s claim that only two party members (it is understood he meant Mr McKay and party activist Thomas O’Hara) had knowledge of the ‘Jamiegate’ scandal.
“History slaps down Martin McGuinness’s statement. For a political party, Sinn Fein’s track record is remarkably consistent, to the point where it is clearly a strategy to start with a flat denial of involvement or prior knowledge of an event like the coaching of Jamie Bryson,” said Mr Nesbitt.
“Take the murder of Paul Quinn from Cullyhanna in 2007. Gerry Adams’ initial reaction was to deny IRA involvement, claiming it was the work of criminals and that republicans were “repulsed” by the news the young man had been beaten to death. But we now know it was an IRA murder.
“The deputy First Minister’s words ring hollow, and what we need is a credible investigation. Never mind Martin McGuinness telling us he has spoken to the ‘right people’.”
Mr 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 American investors.
Mr Bryson was at the time preparing to name former DUP 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).
The deal two years ago by Nama with US investment giant Cerberus, involving the £1.2bn sale of a Northern Ireland property loan portfolio, has been dogged by controversy after £7m 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 £7m 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 deny wrongdoing.