Saturday 22 October 2016

SF minister hauled before Nama inquiry over coaching claims

Published 08/09/2016 | 02:30

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir faces calls to stand aside after his name appeared in a message involving Jamie Bryson. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir faces calls to stand aside after his name appeared in a message involving Jamie Bryson. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The North's finance minister, embattled Sinn Féin politician Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, is to appear before a Stormont committee amid claims party colleagues coached a key witness in the Nama inquiry.

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Mr Ó Muilleoir is facing calls to step aside after his name appeared in a private message between party member Thomas O'Hara and witness Jamie Bryson.

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson. Photo: PA
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson. Photo: PA

Both Mr O'Hara and former MLA Daithí McKay were suspended by Sinn Féin after it emerged they had coached Mr Bryson on how to give evidence.

In particular, Mr O'Hara advised Mr Bryson on the manner with which he should deliver testimony implicating then-First Minister Peter Robinson.

Mr Bryson subsequently claimed Mr Robinson was one of the intended recipients of a £7m kick-back from the €1.6bn sale of Nama's Northern loan portfolio, Project Eagle, an allegation denied by the former DUP leader. In one message, Mr O'Hara said he was trying to establish if Mr Bryson had any evidence which Mr Ó Muilleoir "could jump on".

A meeting of Stormont's finance committee heard yesterday Mr Ó Muilleoir had agreed to a request to appear before it, but had not responded to a call to step aside.

Read more: Pearse Doherty: Sinn Féin Finance Minister Martin Ó Muilleoir must resign if he's involved in North Nama witness coaching

The development came as the Project Eagle controversy deepened further with revelations in a BBC 'Spotlight' programme that Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan was given £40,000 (€47,465) in a bag by property developer John Miskelly, a Nama debtor.

In a recording of the meeting in 2012, Mr Cushnahan was heard saying he was going to help Mr Miskelly with a refinancing deal which would get his assets out of Nama. He also claimed he could influence Nama's then-head of asset recovery Ronnie Hanna, saying they were "as thick as thieves".

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr Hanna, who has denied having any improper dealing with Mr Cushnahan.

Mr Hanna left Nama in 2014, shortly after the Project Eagle deal. There is no suggestion the agency is investigating him.

A Nama spokesman declined to comment on the programme.

Pressure on the Government to launch an inquiry into the sale intensified in the wake of the revelations.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny to convene a meeting of all party leaders to discuss the matter. Oireachtas Finance Committee chairman John McGuinness said an all-Ireland commission of investigation was needed, a suggestion supported in the North by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

Irish Independent

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