Belfast Telegraph

Nama: Broken bonds of trust won't be easily mended

By Liam Clarke

After yesterday's accusations Peter Robinson is determined to go to the Stormont inquiry into the sale of Nama assets in Northern Ireland.

He will sue as many of his tormentors as possible. It is less clear how he can tackle the severe, perhaps fatal, damage it has done to his fragile partnership with Martin McGuinness.

The massive Nama sale involved distressed property, originally worth nearly £5bn.

It went to Cerberus Capital, a giant US firm, for £1.2bn. Paul Tweed, Mr Robinson's lawyer, said he has already written to the committee complaining about the way in which it conducted its inquiry.

"There is the capacity for these hearings to compromise the National Crime Agency investigation" he said.

Mr Tweed, who was in London, believed it was unlikely that if any document was handed over by Jamie Bryson after his evidence it would be protected from libel action by privilege.

The most sensational evidence yesterday was from Mr Bryson, who sprang to prominence as a loyalist flags protester but is on the same side as Mick Wallace, the left-leaning independent Wexford TD, on this.

Mr Wallace has a mixed record of sensational allegations. Last year he alleged Gardai were in the drugs trade, but no prosecutions followed.

Mr Robinson has already threatened to sue Mr Wallace over a tweet which he regarded as libellous.

Earlier, the TD had alleged under the protection of Dail privilege, that £7m had been lodged in a Swiss bank account partly as a pay-off for a Northern Ireland politician. Yesterday, Mr Wallace was more cautious about what he tweeted but backed Mr Bryson to the hilt. "Fair F***s Jamie Bryson" was his verdict on proceedings.

There was little new in the evidence and it was hard for MLAs to question him fully, because they had not read his dossier and he would not name sources. However, he has promised to answer further questions, so this isn't over yet.

That will take time. The more immediate problem may be that this is a further body blow to the already rocky relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

In his evidence, Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, claimed there were "very serious questions" about what capacity Mr Robinson was acting in with regard to the Nama loan sale which he favoured.

The Sinn Fein leader said he was not consulted about meetings and contacts between Nama, bidders for its NI portfolio and DUP ministers.

Normally, the First and Deputy First Ministers exercise official functions together but it is possible for either to act simply as a representative of his own party. It can be a touchy and difficult issue to draw the distinction.

Mr McGuinness is in no mood to turn a blind eye. He told the committee it was "totally, absolutely misleading" for the DUP to say he was being kept informed.

It is a long way since Mark Carruthers' 2013 book Alternative Ulsters in which Peter Robinson told him "it would have been very difficult for us to move forward if it had been someone other than Martin McGuinness because I think he wanted to move on."

The trust expressed there is largely gone and it will be harder to establish again.

Belfast Telegraph


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