Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Committee chair explains Bryson invite, expresses surprise at Alliance move - 'but there will be tough questions for loyalist'

Blogger Jamie Bryson is an outspoken critic of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement
Blogger Jamie Bryson is an outspoken critic of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement

By Jonathan Bell

Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has explained why loyalist Jamie Bryson was invited to give evidence, saying he was surprised at Alliance's decision to withdraw over the matter.

Andrew Murrison said he expected Mr Bryson to face tough questioning when he appears in front of the committee next week.

The committee, which includes DUP MPs Gregory Campbell, Ian Paisley and Jim Shannon on the 13-member panel alongside independent Lady Sylvia Hermon, is examining how to improve the stability of Northern Ireland government when it resumes.

"We must look to the future," Mr Murrison told the BBC.

The committee asked for interested parties to make submissions on the subject and Jamie Bryson's group Unionist Voice Policy Studies did just that.

Mr Murrison would not say who specifically proposed the invitation, but said the committee agreed it was "reasonable".

"This particular group involves individuals who naturally fit together in the course of our investigation," he explained.

"[Jamie Bryson] is a controversial figure and views are divided on him. He is a voice, he represents a small but significant voice in Northern Ireland and on that basis the committee decided it was reasonable on balance to invite him."

Alliance leader Naomi Long was to appear, however on Friday, citing the loyalist flag protests, said she would not now go to London for the session. She was "at a loss" as to why the committee "would allow itself and its reputation to be diminished" by making the invitation.

Mr Murrison said he "regretted" the Alliance withdrawal saying the party's voice would not now be heard against that of Mr Bryson's. He said he was "surprised" at the move by leader Naomi Long.

"I would have thought the clue was in the name in that they do purport to reach out and try to seek compromise. I think it is very sad Naomi has taken the decision but of course I respect it."

He added: "We are on very difficult ground if we start excluding people we don't agree with. I don't agree with Mr Bryson. I anticipate he will face some fairly stiff questioning and it is absolutely right his views should be put on trial as it were."

Jamie Bryson said he wasn't surprised at the reaction by the Alliance party.

"They have long held the view that they are the elite of Northern Ireland’s society and it seems their tolerance only extends as far as they deem viewpoints to be acceptable," he said.

“I welcome the fact Andrew Murison MP has said he looks forward to Wednesday. As he made very clear, it is somewhat ironic it is the Alliance party, who lecture us on tolerance, who have allowed their own intolerance to cut their nose off to spite their face and that is a matter for them.”

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