Northern Ireland

Nama scandal: Sinn Féin would welcome inquiry into 'coaching' of witness claims

Jamie Bryson looks at TV screen showing Daithí McKay in Stormont, file pic from September 2015 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

Sinn Féin has said it would welcome an inquiry after one of its assembly members resigned amid allegations he coached a witness giving evidence to the Stormont finance committee he chaired.

Daithí McKay resigned as an MLA on Thursday after claims he and another Sinn Féin member "coached" loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.

He also apologised for his actions.

Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín said it would co-operate with any inquiry.

The allegations followed leaked Twitter messages between Mr Bryson, Mr McKay and Sinn Féin member Thomas O'Hara.

They exchanged messages before Mr Bryson testified to a Stormont inquiry, chaired by Mr McKay, into the National Asset Management Agency (Nama).

Image caption Carál Ní Chuilín said Sinn Féin would co-operate with any inquiry

Mr McKay, the outgoing MLA for North Antrim, said he accepted this was "inappropriate, ill-advised and wrong".

Ms Ní Chuilín, Sinn Féin's chief whip, said Mr McKay had "accepted that he made an error of judgement" and had been suspended from the party.

She added on Thursday night that her party would "welcome and co-operate fully with any inquiry".

"Sinn Féin will co-operate fully with any inquiry and I am totally confident that any examination of the facts will confirm that Sinn Féin had absolutely no knowledge of, or involvement in, these events," she added.

'Squeeze your best points'

The Stormont Finance Committee inquiry was set up last year due to political controversy over the multi-million pound sale of Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio.

It followed an allegation made in the Dáil (Irish parliament) that a politician or political party in Northern Ireland stood to profit from the loan sale.

Last September, Mr Bryson used a meeting of the committee to name former DUP leader Peter Robinson as the individual he referred to as "Person A" in relation to the scandal.

The then first minister of Northern Ireland strongly denied he had sought to benefit in any way from the multi-million pound property deal.

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Media captionSinn Féin says its North Antrim MLA made 'an error of judgement'

It is now claimed that Sinn Féin's Mr McKay and Mr O'Hara advised Mr Bryson about his evidence before the hearing.

Leaked social media messages obtained by the BBC's Nolan Show and The Irish News show that on 17 September 2015, Mr McKay sent a direct message to Mr Bryson, telling him to follow a Twitter account in the name of Thomas O'Hara, who is understood to be a fellow Sinn Féin member.

The following day, a direct Twitter message from Mr O'Hara to Mr Bryson said: "You may only get 10-15 seconds on this before Daithí as chair has to pull you on it so squeeze your best points on this into 1-2 lines and come straight to the point."

Another message from him said: "Keep it short if you can, when it's said it's said and its privileged. Will be a great finisher."

In his resignation statement, Mr McKay said: "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."

Shortly before Mr McKay's resignation on Thursday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness vehemently denied having any knowledge about the exchange.

"Having spoken to all relevant personnel in the Assembly I am now entirely satisfied that Sinn Féin had no knowledge of any such contact," he said.

But Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said Mr McGuinness's statement "lacked the ring of truth" and was not the end of the matter.

'Absolute nonsense'

The Alliance Party's deputy leader Naomi Long said: "This is something that an independent person is going to have to look into to restore some sort of public confidence."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the "seriousness" of the claims "cannot and must not be underplayed".

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Media captionMr Bryson 'will not cooperate' with any investigation into alleged Sinn Féin coaching

Mr Bryson told the BBC that allegations he had been coached by Sinn Féin before giving evidence were "absolute nonsense".

"I can categorically state that the source of my information did not come from Sinn Féin," the blogger said.

He also denied leaking the information to the media.

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