Sunday 25 September 2016

Second Sinn Féin figure suspended over witness coaching allegations

Published 20/08/2016 | 02:30

Leaked private Twitter messages purport to show Mr O’Hara, a former local election candidate, coached blogger Jamie Bryson (pictured) on how to deliver testimony. Photo: PA
Leaked private Twitter messages purport to show Mr O’Hara, a former local election candidate, coached blogger Jamie Bryson (pictured) on how to deliver testimony. Photo: PA

A second Sinn Féin member in the North has been suspended over the witness coaching controversy.

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Party worker Thomas O'Hara was suspended from the party amid allegations he influenced evidence given to the Stormont inquiry into the sale of Nama's northern loan portfolio, Project Eagle.

Leaked private Twitter messages purport to show Mr O'Hara, a former local election candidate, coached blogger Jamie Bryson on how to deliver testimony.

Mr Bryson went on to allege financial impropriety by the then Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, accusations which were firmly denied.

Mr Bryson claimed at a hearing last September that Mr Robinson was one of five people who were in line to benefit from Stg£7.5m in an Isle of Man bank account under the control of a solicitor involved in the Nama deal.

Mr O'Hara's suspension follows that of up-and-coming North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay, who also resigned his seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr McKay, who was chairman of the Stormont finance committee which investigated the Nama deal, apologised for his actions yesterday.

Leaked private Twitter messages show he told Mr Bryon the type of evidence which would "tick the box" for the committee and referred him to Mr O'Hara, a friend and associate, for further advice on how to deliver that evidence.

The second suspension came as Mr Robinson's DUP party made a formal complaint to the Stormont ethics watchdog, the Assembly Standards Commissioner.

Read more: Crisis for Sinn Féin as MLA quits over witness coaching allegations

Sinn Féin said it would cooperate with any investigation into the matter.

Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness rejected suggestions that others in the party knew what was going on.

He also claimed that any inquiry would come to the same conclusion.

"I do believe the outcome of that will vindicate everything that I have said in the course of the last 24 hours about the non-involvement of the Sinn Féin team at the Assembly," he said.

In a statement, Mr McKay denied he had intended to coach Mr Bryson and put the episode down to a lapse of judgment.

"Having reflected on the allegations against me which have arisen in the last 24 hours and consulted with associates, friends and family, I acknowledge and accept that my contact with a witness to the Finance and Personnel Committee's Nama inquiry in advance of his testimony was inappropriate, ill-advised and wrong. I apologise wholeheartedly for this," he said.

"Whilst I don't offer this in any way as a justification for my action, I want to be absolutely clear that my intention was not, as alleged, to coach the witness in question with regard to the substance of his testimony, but rather ensure that the inquiry had full access to the truth with regard to all the issues relating to the Nama scandal."

However, DUP chairman Maurice Morrow said the revelations confirmed concerns the party had about the conduct of the Nama inquiry. He said what occurred was "an abuse of process" and was used to besmirch Mr Robinson's good name.

Mr Bryson, a former Loyalist flag protester, made a series of allegations in connection with the deal.

He was unable to provide documentation backing up his claims, but insisted evidence was in the hands of the UK's National Crime Agency.

Irish Independent

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