Westminster invitation to prominent loyalist will 'detract' from efforts to restore Stormont
A Westminster committee's invitation to prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson will "detract" from the efforts of others to restore devolution, the shadow secretary of state has claimed.
The warning from Labour MP Owen Smith came after the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee invited the loyalist blogger to give evidence to its inquiry into ‘Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland – dealing with the deficit'.
Co Down-based Mr Bryson, a leading figure in the loyalist flag protests, is due to give oral evidence to MPs next Wednesday in the Thatcher Room in Portcullis House. He is listed on the House of Commons website alongside other contributors as ‘Jamie Bryson, Unionist Voice Policy Studies' – a reference to his personal blog.
South Armagh-born Labour MP and committee member Conor McGinn has already voiced concern about the invitation, which he said he was not consulted on. Alliance leader Naomi Long has pulled out of her scheduled appearance in front the committee, describing Mr Bryson a "relentless self-publicist, an agitator and a figure of considerable ridicule in Northern Ireland".
The committee is chaired by Tory MP Andrew Murrison and includes three DUP MPs, independent Lady Sylvia Hermon and Northern Ireland-born Labour MP Kate Hoey.
A spokesman for the committee was unable to tell The Irish News who was responsible for the invitation but said Mr Murrison "took the lead on decision making".
Mr Smith said he did not think Mr Bryson was an "appropriate figure" to appear before the committee, which covers the travel and accommodation expenses of those it hears evidence from.
"Especially at a time at when all political efforts should be focussed on rebuilding trust and good faith between communities and restoring an assembly government that can share power on behalf of all communities," he said.
"Mr Bryson plays no part in that process nor in ensuring the good governance of Northern Ireland and his attendance at the committee would, in my view, serve only to detract from the serious work being done by others to see devolution restored."
In her letter to committee chairman, Mrs Long said the committee's invite to Mr Bryson "entirely diminishes any value which this inquiry may have" and risked opening the MPs to "public ridicule".
The Alliance leader said the party's ruling executive had agreed on Thursday night that Mrs Long's appearance in front of the committee "would serve no useful purpose other than to add to the circus which Mr Bryson is already orchestrating".
The SDLP has confirmed that leader Colum Eastwood will appear before the committee in the session immediately after the one in which Mr Bryson appears alongside representatives from lobby groups and think tanks.
“The SDLP fully understands that Jamie Bryson is a dangerous eejit but we believe it is better to robustly take on and take apart his arguments than to allow him free reign and an open microphone.
"The SDLP understands that the committee itself invites attendees and representations. It's not our job to interfere in that process."
Mr Bryson replied on Twitter: "Disappointing nastiness from SDLP. Hurling insults as if they are a child in Raymond McCreesh play park."
West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said the inquiry was a "thinly veiled attack on the political institutions established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement".
"This committee is a pro-unionist talking shop dominated by the DUP and their allies at Westminster," he said.
Mr Bryson said he was invited to give oral evidence after making a written submission.
"The contrived controversy around me representing the group is a fig leaf," he said.
"The real issue here is an intolerance of differing viewpoints and the fury that grassroots loyalism would dare to engage in an open inquiry."
He said Alliance's withdrawal demonstrated a "severe lack of tolerance for others viewpoints".