N. Ireland Politics

Foster on Nama scandal: Ó Muilleoir 'should have stepped aside'

Arlene Foster
Image caption Arlene Foster was commenting on the Nama coaching scandal for the first time on Friday morning

First Minister Arlene Foster has said Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir should have stepped aside while the Nama coaching scandal was investigated.

Stormont's Finance Committee wrote to Mr Ó Muilleoir this week asking him to step down during an investigation.

The move followed allegations its former Sinn Féin chairman coached a blogger who was set to give evidence.

Daithí McKay resigned as a Sinn Féin MLA over the scandal. Mr Ó Muilleoir denies knowledge of the communication.

Mrs Foster told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme: "It would be to the benefit of the institutions if he had stepped aside even temporarily."

Analysis: BBC News NI Political Editor Mark Devenport

Arlene Foster's first comments on the Daithí McKay affair were intended to send out a few different messages:

  • Solidarity with her predecessor, Peter Robinson
  • A side swipe at his accuser Jamie Bryson for colluding with Sinn Féin
  • Agreement with her colleagues who have already called for the finance minister to step aside

That said, she also acknowledged Máirtín Ó Muilleoir's future was a matter for Sinn Féin, and since the party was backing its minister, that's probably an end to the matter.

Although she made it clear she does not trust Sinn Féin, Mrs Foster clearly is not contemplating any wider action which would disrupt the stability of the DUP and Sinn Féin dominated coalition at Stormont.

But she added: "Sinn Fein have decided he is to remain in place and at the end of the day it is their call."

Last September, loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson used a meeting of the committee to name former First Minister Peter Robinson as "Person A" - whom he said had personally benefitted from the £1.2bn sale of Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio.

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

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Emma Little-Pengelly is now chairwoman of the finance committee

Mrs Foster said direct Twitter messages between Jamie Bryson, Daithí McKay and Sinn Fein member Thomas O'Hara were a "disgraceful attempt to impugn and discredit" her former colleague.

Nama is the Republic of Ireland's "bad bank", set up to deal with toxic loans after the 2008 property crash.

The finance committee started investigating the 2014 sale to a US investment firm following 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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