N. Ireland Politics

Nama coaching: Finance committee meets at Stormont over claims

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Media captionLive: Stormont Finance Committee

A special meeting of Stormont's finance committee is under way to discuss claims that a Sinn Féin member coached a loyalist blogger before giving evidence to the Nama inquiry.

The committee's former chairman, Daithí McKay, resigned as a Sinn Féin MLA last week after the revelations were made public.

But some of the other political parties believe further action is required.

The finance committee is now chaired by the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly.

Her party has formally complained to the police and to the assembly's Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain about the allegations, which were revealed last week by the BBC's Nolan Show and The Irish News.

They obtained leaked Twitter messages between loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, Mr McKay and Sinn Féin member Thomas O'Hara, ahead of Mr Bryson's appearance before the committee's inquiry into the multi-million pound sale of Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio.

'Building confidence'

Speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme on Tuesday, Mrs Little-Pengelly called for "transparency" and said the implications of the claims needed to be fully investigated.

"There will need to be a series of investigations, there have been calls for independent investigations and that needs to happen, and I do think all the parties involved in this must co-operate," she said.

"This is about building confidence with people and getting to the truth of the matter."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Daithí McKay, right, was chairman of a Stormont inquiry into the £1.2bn sale of Nama's property loan portfolio in Northern Ireland

On Monday, there were calls for the Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir to step aside from his post after he was linked to the coaching allegations, something he has denied.

He was a Sinn Féin member of the committee during last year's Nama inquiry.

Asked if he should consider his position, Mrs Little-Pengelly said: "I think in the context where he has been linked by his own party to this, this goes to the heart of public confidence in relation to committees and having confidence in the work it does.

"He has to reflect on that and I think in the circumstances, it would be the right thing for him to step aside, but that is a matter for him ultimately and the party."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Mr Ó Muilleoir had his "full confidence and support" as finance minister.

"Calls for him to stand aside are ridiculous and are nothing more than petty party politicking," he said.

"Máirtín is engaged in vitally important work as finance minister in dealing with the real crises created by the referendum result and Tory austerity.

Máirtín will continue with that important work."

Analysis: Gareth Gordon, BBC News NI Political Correspondent

This scandal has rocked Stormont to its core and it's not over yet.

The membership of Stormont's finance committee has almost completely changed since the assembly election in May, but the new one must address the issues thrown up by this surprising turn of events.

Tuesday is the first chance MLAs will have to debate the issue.

It will not be the last.

The National Assets Management Agency (Nama) is the Republic of Ireland's "bad bank", set up to deal with toxic loans after the 2008 property crash.

It sold its Northern Ireland loans portfolio to a US investment firm for £1.2bn in 2014.

The Stormont inquiry was set up last year to investigate an allegation made in the Dáil (Irish parliament) that a politician or political party in Northern Ireland stood to profit from the loan sale.

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