Leading article

Leading article: Pressure grows on Peter Robinson

While an intense spotlight was placed on the evidence given by the loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson to a Northern Ireland Assembly committee yesterday, it is possible that the earlier appearance before the same body by Martin McGuinness will ultimately prove more damaging to our beleaguered first minister Peter Robinson.

Mr Bryson, speaking with the legal privileges provided by a special sitting of the Stormont finance committee, named Mr Robinson as the previously anonymous politician who was allegedly to receive a payment on completion of Northern Ireland's biggest ever property deal.

Mr Robinson last night repeated his flat denials that he was due to benefit in any way from the £1.2bn sale of loans to the US firm Cerberus by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), which is also know as the Republic of Ireland's `bad bank' and was set up to deal with the crisis caused by the 2008 property crash.

In fairness to the DUP leader, it should be noted that, although Mr Bryson has been pursuing a similar theme for some time and appears to have access to some intriguing sources, he has yet to produce documented and credible evidence which is capable of supporting his allegations against Mr Robinson.

What Mr Robinson cannot dispute is that his partner in government, deputy first minister Mr McGuinness, openly declared to the same committee yesterday that `very serious questions' had to be asked about the first minister's conduct during the NAMA loan sale.

Mr McGuinness said he had been completely kept in the dark about a series of key meetings last year which were first revealed by The Irish News, and amazingly included an unpublicised trip to Stormont Castle by the Cerberus chairman and former US vice president Dan Quayle.

DUP members have attempted to present a different version of events, but there can be no doubt that enormous concern exists about the circumstances surrounding the NAMA deal and the persistent claims that prominent figures were due to be handed huge sums for facilitating the outcome.

Mr Robinson indicated last night that he was prepared to appear before the same Stormont committee when he will be expected to robustly defend his approach to negotiations involving unprecedented amounts of public money.

A combative performance can be anticipated but there are growing indications that the relationship between Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness, which is central to the stability of the devolved institutions, is under serious strain and may be approaching a point where it is beyond repair.

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