Belfast Telegraph

Confident performance from man setting scene for a new Stormont deal

By Liam Clarke

If anyone expected Peter Robinson to collapse in a heap on the floor when asked about Nama, they will have been disappointed. He put on a bravura performance and nobody landed a glove on him. There were also signs of political accommodation.

He got stuck into Jamie Bryson, the loyalist blogger. Mr Bryson had previously used Assembly privilege to claim part of £7m lodged in a Swiss bank account was intended for Mr Robinson. The money was connected to the Nama sale of northern assets to Cerberus Finance, a US company which Mr Robinson had met.

The DUP leader used his opening statement to denounce this as "outrageous and groundless". Since Mr Bryson had produced no smoking gun, that is where matters rest.

What was fresher was his praise of Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister. Mr McGuinness told a previous hearing that he was sometimes left out of the loop on Nama and not informed of meetings.

Mr Robinson excused Mr McGuinness in answer to a question from Jim Wells, his party colleague. "I don't think he [Martin McGuinness] was trying to mislead this committee - I think he genuinely had no recollection of these events... we get flooded with things from other departments".

Earlier, he said he had needed to consult records to refresh his memory. He said the accusations "date back over many years and concern proceedings that were not for the most part controversial at the time. In preparing for this hearing I have done my best to recollect events, though much of it is quite a distant memory. I have also taken the opportunity to consult contemporaneous records to assist my recollection."

Mr Robinson, who has temporarily stood aside as First Minister in protest at republican activity, denied Press claims of a poisoned relationship between himself and Mr McGuinness.

"There is a very good working relationship in OFMDFM," he insisted, adding: "We have consistently been able to manage all of these issues. Martin and I have had numerous meetings since he appeared before his committee. I'm sure we will have numerous meeting after today."

This shows two things. Firstly, Mr Robinson is fairly confident on Nama. He is in suing mode if anyone with the resources to cover his costs repeats Mr Bryson's allegations outside privilege.

Secondly, he is working on a solution to the present troubles with Mr McGuinness. The smaller parties have suspected this since Tuesday of last week and have regarded it as a "side deal" which excludes them.

It is likely to involve a "big ask" for money, for items other than welfare, from David Cameron. Yesterday, in the Commons, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers expressed cautious optimism over Stormont.

Things will move towards a conclusion, good or bad, once the report of the paramilitary assessment panel, now put off until next Tuesday, is produced.

Belfast Telegraph

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