Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein's O Muilleoir: My hands are clean and I'll be vindicated by any inquiry

Exclusive: Despite the growing clamour, SF's Finance Minister says he won't step aside as 'Brysongate' probed

By John Mulgrew

Mairtin O Muilleoir says there is "zero chance" of information coming to light that could implicate him in the furore over the coaching of a witness at a probe into the largest land deal in Northern Ireland's history.

And the Finance Minister insisted he will not step aside - despite calls from a Stormont committee for him to do so amid allegations that loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson was "coached" ahead of his appearance during its Nama probe last year.

The probe was set up to investigate the £1.2bn sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan portfolio in 2014.

Mr O Muilleoir told the Belfast Telegraph during an interview that he had "no knowledge of, no involvement with and no part" in it.

Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay resigned following claims he and fellow party member Thomas O'Hara had coached Mr Bryson before he gave evidence in front of the finance committee.

Mr O Muilleoir said his comments will "stand the test of time".

"I will be vindicated in any inquiry," he said.

He wouldn't give a direct answer to "lone wolf" claims that Daithi McKay was the only Sinn Fein Assembly Member who was aware of contact with Mr Bryson.

"I am very happy with the responses I have made, the responses Martin McGuinness has made. But it is time to not allow ourselves to be diverted and deflected from important work," he said.

Calls for the minister to step aside came after Twitter messages leaked last week made reference to Mr O Muilleoir, who was then a member of the finance committee.

They indicated how he might intervene during the evidence session involving Mr Bryson.

Regarding what discussions had taken place, in any form, before the committee sat to hear evidence from a range of witnesses - including Mr Bryson - Mr O Muilleoir would not be drawn on details.

"We are going to wait until the standards commissioner starts his investigation, and I will be co-operating with that," he said.

Mr O Muilleoir again repeated he had no involvement in the alleged coaching, and said he welcomed "those who think otherwise, and are alleging otherwise, and I'm looking forward to the evidence they put forward".

Following the committee meeting, Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness said his party colleague would "not be stepping aside on the basis of calls from Opposition parties, much less calls from the DUP".

Mr O Muilleoir said: "I think I made a very firm statement on that issue on Monday. I had no knowledge, no part in, no involvement with the three gentlemen.

"That statement by me will stand the test of time. I will be vindicated in any inquiry."

He wouldn't respond to claims that he had seen any evidence that was in the possession of Mr Bryson, or any other witness in front of the committee, in advance.

Asked where he hoped the Nama investigation and committee goes now, he said: "I think it would be very important to study what's happening and then we will reflect on that, and respond.

"My position on Monday is my position today and tomorrow, and the day after that.

"There's too much important work to be done to be deflected from that crucial work."

Speaking about whether he would heed calls from the committee to step down while the investigation takes place, he said: "I don't think so. When you look at the Nama investigation, if every minister who was under investigation by our committee had stepped aside, there would be virtually no Executive.

"This is a five-year tenure as Finance Minister.

"I'm going to be disappointed if the Opposition doesn't call for the resignation of all the ministers in Government at least once a month.

"If you are in Opposition, and you are not calling for the resignation of the Finance Minister, you are not doing your job." On claims by Mr McGuinness that he, and Sinn Fein, had "no knowledge of any such contact" with Mr Bryson, he said: "These are matters for commentators to comment on.

"My view is, and we have gone around the houses on this one, is that I have said everything that is appropriate to say at this stage.

"You are moving into areas which are inappropriate, and which are the business of the Assembly standards commissioner.

"Until the Assembly's commissioner comes forward with those questions, I think we will leave our discussion around Nama where it sits."

Mr O Muilleoir was also asked whether he believed he would be Finance Minister this time next year.

"I think everyone has to step up, be ambitious, be bold, don't be deflected and diverted," he said. "I'm going to take my example from the ordinary people I meet... I'm probably the most travelled minister since June.

"A bus could hit me on the way out the door. Tomorrow is promised to no one. If you are asking me, will I continue to do my best? Will I be the Finance Minister which people wish me to be?

"I think the answer is undoubtedly yes.

"I would say that you and I will be sitting here in a year's time, doing an interview."

A majority of committee members voted to send a letter to the minister asking him to stand down from his ministerial role while an investigation by the Assembly's commissioner for standards takes place.

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