Bryson: SF wanted me to pressure MLA to vote for public Nama probe
A key witness in Stormont’s Nama inquiry has claimed he was encouraged by Sinn Fein to press an Assembly Member into changing his vote to ensure the hearing would be heard in public.
Jamie Bryson admitted to the Belfast Telegraph that he contacted former Independent MLA John McCallister the night before a vote was to be taken on how to proceed with the inquiry.
He said he tried to persuade Mr McCallister, who disagreed with the inquiry being heard in public, to change his vote.
Mr McCallister did not respond to Mr Bryson’s direct message on Facebook and did not change his vote. He informed the committee ahead of the hearing that Mr Bryson had contacted him.
Mr Bryson said he contacted Mr McCallister after he received messages from a Sinn Fein man’s Twitter account advising him on how to give evidence.
Last week Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay resigned after leaked tweets showed exchanges between him, SF member Thomas O’Hara and Mr Bryson before the loyalist testified at the inquiry into the £1.2bn sale of Nama’s property loan portfolio in Northern Ireland.
Mr O’Hara and Mr McKay are alleged to have coached Mr Bryson for his appearance at the finance committee hearing, which was chaired by Mr McKay.
The messages appear to show how Mr McKay and Mr O’Hara instructed Mr Bryson on what to say before he gave evidence into the probe about the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland loan book.
Last July independent TD Mick Wallace claimed that £7m in an offshore bank account linked to the deal had been earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician.
Mr Bryson told the committee that former DUP leader Peter Robinson was to receive a payment upon its completion — claims that the former First Minister has vehemently denied.
The leaked messages show an exchange between Mr Bryson and Mr O’Hara about a forthcoming committee vote to decide if the hearing would be held in public session.
Mr McCallister and Judith Cochrane MLA had already voiced concerns about Mr Bryson giving evidence in public session.
During the Twitter exchange Mr O’Hara wrote: “What do you think of Cochrane and McCallister, are they under enough pressure to change their vote?”
In response Mr Bryson wrote: “I have someone going to talk to McCallister tomorrow... I wonder what else we could do to really nail it for the public session. Perhaps the release of one document?”
Mr O’Hara replied: “Texted Daithi (McKay) there, he says they will be putting a statement out ahead of the meeting tomorrow sometime. Hold the documents back for now, depending on how he interprets them it could put the frighteners on McCallister. Best to get a read of him first.”
Mr Bryson told this paper he felt he was being “actively encouraged” to try and persuade Mr McCallister to change his vote. He added that at no time was an attempt made to stop him contacting Mr McCallister.
Mr McCallister said he feels vindicated that he did not change his vote because Mr Bryson “brought Peter Robinson’s name into the public hearing without any proof”.
Mr O’Hara was suspended from the party on Friday following the “coaching” allegations.
However, following his suspension Mr Bryson claimed Mr O’Hara was innocent of any involvement.
He said he was confident that Mr O’Hara was not the person he had been in contact with on Twitter, and that he believes it was Mr McKay.
Mr Bryson also claimed that others “higher up in Sinn Fein than Daithi” were aware of the correspondence.
Sinn Fein did not respond to a request for comment.