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Colum Eastwood: 'Even Charlie Haughey would have called this 'GUBU'

"We should not lose sight of what is at stake here," SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said

In the north we are used to a different type of summer crisis. They usually involve parades, flags and at worst violence on our streets. The crisis which hit the headlines of this newspaper on Thursday is not of that variety. It is not part of our old familiar. It would be foolish though to imagine that it is any less serious.

We should not lose sight of what is at stake here. This is big stuff involving big money and big business. Despite appearances, the crux of this crisis goes way beyond egotistical eejits like Jamie Bryson.

This is instead a crisis involving a £1.3 billion deal. Nama’s Project Eagle was the single biggest property sale in Irish history. It has led to the buying and selling of properties and land across the north. There isn’t a builder or a property owner here who hasn’t been affected, directly or indirectly. It is a deal which continues to shape today’s property market.

It is that deal which has fallen under serious suspicion. It has been alleged that this biggest of sales was the subject of a massive corruption involving senior political figures. That is one of the most significant and serious allegations ever to have been made against political life here.

The investigation by Stormont’s Finance Committee was the democratic method through which to investigate that most serious of allegations. Such is its seriousness that there have also been calls in Dáil Éireann, including by Gerry Adams, for a Commission of Investigation to establish the truth behind the accusations against this mammoth property deal.

Read the correspondence

That is why the revelations uncovered by The Irish News are so severe and so stark – members of Sinn Féin participated in the corruption of the democratic investigation into the alleged corruption at the heart of Project Eagle. Whilst calling for a full and open investigation in public, they were undermining that very same investigation through the virtual privacy of Twitter. You couldn’t make it up. Even Charlie Haughey would have described this as a Gubu moment.

Amongst the confusion of this crisis, one certainty remains. Sinn Féin’s interference in that democratic investigation has only served the purposes of those who are alleged to have corruptly benefited from the Project Eagle deal in the first place.

No matter how hard they might try, there is no getting away from this for Sinn Féin. Offering up Daithí McKay as a sacrificial lamb will not suffice. The party has more questions to answer.

Many of those questions now lead to the current Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. Given his newly elevated role, Mr O’Muilleor has a particular responsibility to remove doubt as to his own involvement in events which led to this crisis. He was a member of the committee which questioned Jamie Bryson. What tactics did he work out with his fellow party member and committee chair Daithí McKay before the choreographed appearance of Jamie Bryson? Was Mr O’Muilleoir also in contact with Thomas O’Hara during the Finance Committee hearings? If so, will he now publish all his communication and correspondence relating to the committee’s hearing into Project Eagle?

The lasting effect of the Nama scandal has been to undermine confidence in the north’s business environment. If a deal on the scale of Project Eagle was vulnerable to corruption, then we must ask what else could have been going on?

Read full Nama coverage

In order to retain the confidence of the north’s business community and maintain the integrity of the office he now holds, Mr O’Muilleoir must transparently show that he had no hand, act or part in the corruption and undermining of the Finance Committee’s investigation. The north cannot afford to have a finance minister who is in any way perceived to be weak on corruption.

Until all of these steps are taken, this summer crisis won’t go away. It can’t, there are still too many questions yet to be answered.

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