Saturday 25 January 2020

Sinn Fein politician quits job over 'inappropriate' contact with Nama inquiry witness

File photo dated of former Sinn Fein Assembly committee chairman Daithi McKay who has resigned: PA: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
File photo dated of former Sinn Fein Assembly committee chairman Daithi McKay who has resigned: PA: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Michael McHugh, Press Association

A FORMER Sinn Fein Stormont Assembly watchdog has dramatically quit as a public representative after "inappropriate" contact with a witness over his inquiry into Northern Ireland's largest ever property deal.

Daithi McKay, 34, denied coaching loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson before he gave explosive evidence to the Stormont committee Mr McKay chaired about the efforts of Ireland's bank for bad property loans to dispose of its Northern Ireland portfolio to US investors.

Mr Bryson was preparing to name former Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson in connection with the case.

The then first minister strongly denied he had sought to benefit from the agreement involving US investors and the National Asset Management Agency (Nama).

Mr McKay said: "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."

Mr McKay was the mercurial face of Sinn Fein's youth generation who spent more than a decade working for the party in North Antrim on causes like the environment.

His fall from grace was precipitated by claims in Belfast newspaper the Irish News about his contact with Mr Bryson.

The suspended Sinn Fein representative 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.

"This scandal was and remains an unresolved matter of wholesale fraud and corruption at the highest level affecting parties across the board. I hope that my own error of judgment on a matter of process will not provide cover or obscure the real and unresolved questions of substance which remain."

The Irish News reported what it said were leaked messages between Mr Bryson and Sinn Fein Twitter users including Mr McKay. Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness has denied any knowledge of the matter.

The deal two years ago by Nama with US investment giant Cerberus, involving the £1.2 billion sale of a Northern Ireland property loan portfolio, has been dogged by controversy after £7 million linked to it was found in an Isle of Man bank account.

Critics have claimed the arrangement included multimillion-pound fixer fees.

None of the Twitter messages indicated that Nama-related information came to Mr Bryson from Sinn Fein.

On Thursday, in response to the revelations, Mr Bryson tweeted: "The evidence provided to the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) committee was not, in any shape or form, influenced or sourced from any member of Sinn Fein."

He added it was "absurd to suggest I was coached by Sinn Fein. If, as is alleged, Sinn Fein were manipulated into assisting my passage to DFP that's a matter for them".

Nama was established in Ireland at the height of the financial crisis to take property-linked loans off the books of bailed-out banks.

It sold 800 property loans to Cerberus, a multibillion-pound fund.

The £7 million was paid into an account controlled by a former managing partner of Belfast-based law firm Tughans, Ian Coulter, who resigned after it was unearthed.

Tughans, which was involved in the Nama transaction as subcontractor for Cerberus's US lawyers, Brown Rudnick, insisted it was not aware of the transfer.

All parties involved in the 2014 transaction have denied wrongdoing.

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