Friday 24 February 2017

Minister says he is 'totally chillaxed' in Project Eagle controversy

Emile Laurac

Stormont Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has said he is 'totally chillaxed' about attempts to link him to the witness coaching controversy surrounding the Project Eagle inquiry. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Stormont Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has said he is 'totally chillaxed' about attempts to link him to the witness coaching controversy surrounding the Project Eagle inquiry. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Stormont Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has said he is "totally chillaxed" about attempts to link him to the witness coaching controversy surrounding the Project Eagle inquiry.

Fresh claims of "missing messages" between Loyalist Jamie Bryson and Sinn Féin also emerged at a heated meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly finance committee yesterday.

Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, said there were differences between messages published in the press - which led to the resignation of Daithí MacKay of Sinn Féin - and others he had received. Mr Allister said he had not immediately disclosed the documentation because he did not believe it differed from what was in the public domain.

Committee chairperson Emma Little Pengelly said it was "very serious" that it appeared there had been a deliberate bid to mislead the investigation.

The DUP chairwoman said it was very clear looking at the full transcript that there are missing messages.

One appeared to refer in part to Mr Ó Muilleoir "and what he might or might not do".

Mr Ó Muilleoir told the committee however that he was "totally chillaxed" about attempts to link him to the controversy.

"Whether I was mentioned two times or 200 times, I had no knowledge of this. I had nothing to do with this correspondence. The first I learned was when I was on holiday in the Basque region," he said.

"I will not be stepping aside."

The committee had met for almost an hour beforehand in closed session, after which it emerged Mr Allister had presented the emails sent to his office in mid-August, apparently from Loyalist protester and blogger Jamie Bryson. There was also discussion of a request from the PSNI Serious Crime Branch cautioning MLAs to be careful about their discussions.

Det Supt Kevin Geddes said: "Police do not wish to impede in any way the business of the Assembly and will endeavour to progress our enquiries as quickly as possible. The request was made as it was considered to be inappropriate at this time to have parliamentary scrutiny of events which are the subject of a criminal investigation."

The questioning of Mr Ó Muilleoir went ahead an hour late. It emerged one specific email message showed Sinn Féin worker Thomas O'Hara - who had been in contact with Mr Bryson - was told the committee could be given the name of a source but it could be "any old name".

Mr O'Hara was suspended by Sinn Féin, accused of coaching Mr Bryson before he made explosive claims to the finance committee. Mr Bryson named then First Minister Peter Robinson as 'Person A', whom he claimed had gained personally.

Mr Robinson rejected any claim he had sought to benefit from the deal.

Irish Independent

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