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Sinn Fein sacrificed MLA Daithi McKay, claims councillor

By Noel McAdam

Published 03/09/2016

Daithi McKay (left) with Paul Maguire after he was re-elected an MLA in May
Daithi McKay (left) with Paul Maguire after he was re-elected an MLA in May
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson giving evidence at Stormont

The councillor who led a wave of resignations from Sinn Fein has broken his silence to accuse the party of throwing Daithi McKay "under the bus".

Paul Maguire was the senior figure among 18 activists who dramatically quit this week, throwing party organisation in north Antrim into crisis.

The former members were in effect the entire election team for ex-MLA Mr McKay, who resigned over allegations that he coached loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson prior to his appearance before an Assembly committee probing the Nama scandal.

Mr McKay stood down last month after admitting "inappropriate" contact with Mr Bryson.

The former Sinn Fein MLA had been the chairman of Stormont's finance committee, which was investigating the Nama property sale and to which Mr Bryson gave evidence.

A year ago this month, Mr Bryson used a meeting of the committee to name then First Minister Peter Robinson as "Person A", who he claimed had gained personally from the £1.2bn sale of the Northern Ireland property portfolio.

Mr Robinson, who was also DUP leader, strongly rejected any claim he had sought to benefit in any way from the deal.

On September 17 last year, Mr McKay sent a Twitter message to Mr Bryson telling him to follow an account in the name of Thomas O'Hara, a Sinn Fein member who along with Mr McKay has been suspended by the party.

Despite that, Mid and East Antrim councillor Mr Maguire said he believed Mr McKay was "sacrificed". He was also severely critical of the party's decision to co-opt Philip McGuigan to replace Mr McKay in the Assembly.

In a personal letter he sent to the party's leadership, Mr Maguire asked why a man who was replaced by McKay in 2007 because he was deemed "not suitable" could be chosen to replace him now.

In the letter - seen by the Belfast Telegraph - he asked how it made any sense to replace Mr McKay with Mr McGuigan, given that it was the other way around in 2007. "That may be one of life's great unsolved mysteries," he said.

The Braid area councillor said the procedure for replacing Mr McKay had been "blatantly undemocratic" and the consultation exercise was "meaningless. "The fact is the consultation (involved) people who have disengaged totally from the structures for many months (and) did not support Daithi during the Assembly election campaign," Mr Maguire wrote.

The letter alleges that on polling day, Mr McGuigan was "out riding a bicycle".

And it claims the activists were only told of the co-option of McGuigan after an embargoed press release announcing the decision was sent to the media.

In his first interview since their joint statement was issued to the Ballymena Guardian last Tuesday, Mr Maguire added: "There have been tensions within Sinn Fein in north Antrim for a long time. This was not a kneejerk thing, it was very measured."

He added he accepted Mr McKay's explanation that he had acted alone over Mr Bryson.

"What Daithi did was very uncharacteristic, but he has told us he was acting off his own bat, and I accept that," the councillor told the Belfast Telegraph.

"He is very mature and astute for his age (34) and would always adopt a belt and braces approach to whatever he was doing.

"He has told us no more senior person in Sinn Fein knew what he was doing or sanctioned it."

Nonetheless, Mr Maguire said the party had "thrown Daithi under a bus". And he added: "There was no meaningful consultation about the co-option. Two people came to the constituency and spoke to who they wanted to and then McGuigan was anointed."

Despite several requests, there was no comment from Sinn Fein.

Belfast Telegraph

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