Senior Sinn Fein political figure Daithi McKay, who worked to expose wrongdoing in the murky world of Ireland’s NAMA property deals, could end up being the only direct casualty of the scandal following his forced resignation this week.
Mr McKay apologised “whole-heartedly” for his “inappropriate, ill-advised and wrong” contact with Jamie Bryson ahead of the loyalist’s appearance at a Stormont inquiry. Bryson went on to make allegations about corrupt interference in the multi-billion pound sale of the bank’s assets in the Six Counties to a US vulture fund.
The inquiry was sparked following claims made in the Dublin parliament by Independent TD Mick Wallace, who alleged 7 million pounds in an Isle of Man account had been earmarked for a politician or party in the Six Counties.
Mr McKay resigned and was suspended from his party amid a furore over his advice to Bryson on how to complete his testimony without being stopped by hostile DUP committee members. The ingenious device of naming the then DUP leader Peter Robinson only at the end of the testimony, as was suggested to Bryson, prevented the loyalist’s most serious allegations from being censored.
The controversy was sparked following the publication of leaked messages between Bryson and McKay on the Twitter social network. Another Sinn Fein member, Thomas O’Hara, has also been suspended by the party after he was also implicated in communicating with the loyalist.
Bryson himself has denied he was behind the leak, as has Sinn Fein. In a statement, the party’s deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the allegations were “profoundly disturbing” and claimed that Mr McKay had been operating behind his party’s back.
He said: “If the allegations of inappropriate contact prove to be true, then Daithi McKay needs to seriously consider his position as an MLA.
“I want to state categorically that I had absolutely no knowledge of this exchange or contact. And having spoken to all relevant personnel in the Assembly I am now entirely satisfied that Sinn Fein had no knowledge of any such contact.”
Mr McKay, who was highly regarded as the chair of the Stormont finance committee before losing his post in a recent Sinn Fein reshuffle, appears now to have also irrevocably lost his Assembly seat.
Following his resignation, Mr McKay said: “Having reflected on the allegations against me which have arisen in the last 24 hours, and consulted with associates, friends and family, I acknowledge and accept that my contact with a witness to the Finance & Personnel Committee’s NAMA inquiry in advance of his testimony was inappropriate, ill-advised and wrong. I apologise wholeheartedly for this.
“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.”
The leak has caused little political disruption to the Stormont executive so far, as those who might have been sucked into the controversy, such as First Minister Arlene Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir, were abroad.
The question of who initially accessed the messages and then passed them on to the media remains. Despite being forced out of Stormont, Mr McKay said the issue of the NAMA cover-up also remained.
“This scandal was and remains an unresolved matter of wholesale fraud and corruption at the highest level affecting parties across the board,” he said.
“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.
“It has been a privilege to represent the constituency of North Antrim for the past nine years. I regret that I will no longer be in a position to do so.”