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'Brysongate': what did Martin McGuinness know about the Nama coaching plot and when did he know it?

Is it plausible Deputy First Minister unaware of contacts between his MLA and loyalist, asks Alban Maginness

Published 24/08/2016

Questions have been asked over Martin McGuinness's role in the McKay affair
Questions have been asked over Martin McGuinness's role in the McKay affair
Jamie Bryson appearing at the inquiry into Nama

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, in a most pithy and biting comment in reaction to Daithi McKay's resignation, said: "Sinn Fein don't do lone wolves, they do scapegoats."

This, I believe, gets to the heart of the matter.

There is massive public disbelief and scepticism that McKay and his assistant Thomas O'Hara acted alone in coaching Jamie Bryson and, thereby, interfering in the due process of the finance committee's inquiry into the Nama affair.

It is, to most people, unbelievable that Sinn Fein - of all parties - did not know of, or was not involved at a senior level in, the contacts with the leading loyalist protester.

For McKay to do a smart solo run is simply not credible as Sinn Fein, both in the Assembly and in local government, exercises a North Korean-type discipline.

Sinn Fein is not a normal democratic political party.

Sinn Fein is a closed, tightly controlled political apparatus, where you are told what to do and, if you disagree with it, you either have to submit or be pushed out.

It is controlled not by its Assembly party, but by its ard chomhairle meeting in Dublin, which issues decrees that must be obeyed by all the party faithful.

It works in accordance of the principle of "democratic centralism" - a system devised by Stalin and his colleagues.

It is, therefore, unthinkable that McKay - a relatively senior member - would have run the risk of such clandestine political intrigue by colluding with such a risky political player as Bryson without at least informing the senior command in the party.

Why would McKay - tipped as a rising star - have taken such a personal risk?

It will take a huge effort to persuade an already sceptical public that McKay was not a scapegoat, sacrificed in order to protect the wider interests of the party and its more senior members.

Eastwood has also asked a series of several searching and forensic questions of the republican party.

He widens the scope of the affair and asks what did Martin McGuinness know about all of this?

Is it credible that Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, who was most publicly exercised by the Nama allegations, would not have wished to be informed by a colleague that there was an engagement between Bryson and the chair of the committee inquiring into this most thorny problem involving allegations against the DUP First Minister - an issue that had the potential to collapse the Executive itself?

Furthermore, Eastwood asks what did Mairtin O Muilleoir, now Finance Minister, know about this clandestine back-channel with Bryson. Remember, O Mulleoir was a leading light on the committee for the party and, in fact, was very prominent in the proceedings of the committee itself.

Indeed, one of the disclosed messages actually refers to O Muilleoir as a committee member and what questions he might ask at the September 2015 meeting of the inquiry.

O Muilleoir needs to clarify just exactly what he knew about contacts with Bryson and if he had any personal involvement in all of this. Not to do so will continue to dog his position as Finance Minister.

Undoubtedly, this startling revelation of very cynical collusion between a Sinn Fein politician and a leading loyalist will cause further damage to the Executive. But the worst impact is not on the already-strained Executive, but on the Assembly itself as a working institution. Up until now one of the success stories of the Assembly has been the general good workings of the committee system.

The Assembly committees, under the Good Friday Agreement, have been given considerable power, and part of that is a committee's capacity to launch a wide-ranging inquiry, such as the one into Nama.

The committee has strong powers to call for witnesses and documentation, similar to the powers of a judge. In exercising such powers, the committee must behave in a just and equitable manner and not to act in a biased fashion, suggestive of a predetermined outcome.

It is self-evident in applying due process that witnesses should not be interfered with, or given preferential treatment such as coaching. Any such interference undermines due process and the very integrity of the inquiry that is being conducted.

What has been revealed here has seriously undermined the Nama inquiry itself. Anyone aggrieved by its ultimate findings could now go with confidence to the High Court and have its proceedings quashed, given the serious nature of the recent disclosures.

What is required now is a full public disclosure - including electronic communications - by Sinn Fein and Bryson.

Only this will restore the integrity of the Assembly and repair the damage to public confidence.

Belfast Telegraph

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