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Ó Muilleoir told to stand aside until Bryson probe concludes

Finance minister Mairtin O' Muilleoir. Picture Mal McCann.

There have been calls for Máirtín Ó Muilleoir to stand aside as finance minister until investigations into the Jamie Bryson coaching controversy are concluded.

The South Belfast MLA, who sat on Stromont's finance committee when the prominent loyalist gave evidence last year, was named in the exchanges between the then committee chairman Daithí McKay's assistant Thomas O'Hara and Mr Bryson.

During the hearing into the controversial sale of Nama's Project Eagle loan portfolio Mr Bryson claimed the then First Minister Peter Robinson benefited from the sale, an allegation the former DUP leader denies.

"I'm just trying to establish what Máirtín or someone can jump upon and say: 'there's no way we can turn him away, this is credible, relevant and in the public interest'," one message from Mr O'Hara to Mr Bryson reads.

Another said: "Try to get Máirtín to say something in the meeting, even let him see how comprehensive the document is, so as he knows it's not bullshit."

Mr O'Muilleoir, who was appointed Stormont finance minister in May, is currently visiting the Basque country and was unavailable for comment. Sinn Féin declined to comment any further on the matter but insists Mr McKay acted alone.

But when he returns to work as expected on Monday, the finance minister will face calls to make a public statement about the affair.

Stormont's standards commissioner is expected begin probing Mr McKay's dealings with Mr Bryson after the DUP lodged a complaint, while there have also been calls for the PSNI to launch a criminal investigation.

Read the correspondence

Ulster Unionist finance spokesman Philip Smith said the former Belfast mayor should stand aside until investigations into the affair were concluded.

"As the hours have passed since the bombshell revelations were plastered across media outlets on Thursday, allegations have continued and the finance minister has been named in the correspondence between Jamie Bryson and members of Sinn Féin," the Strangford MLA said.

"The credibility of our political institutions has taken another hit in the eyes of the public and they now need – indeed demand – to hear the truth."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the finance minister had a "responsibility to remove doubt" about any involvement with Mr Bryson ahead of the committee hearing.

"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," he writes in The Irish News today.

"The north cannot afford to have a Finance Minister who is in any way perceived to be weak on corruption."

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Green leader Steven Agnew said: "There are more questions to be answered, not least how much knowledge the current finance minister had of the communications between two senior Sinn Féin members and a finance committee witness."

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "There are too many unanswered questions for the sacrificing of McKay to be the end of the matter.

"The role and any complicity of other Sinn Féin members on the committee require rigorous investigation, particularly the lead member Máirtín Ó Muilleoir."

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