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Emma Little Pengelly flies home to chair special meeting of Stormont finance committee

DUP MLA Emma Little Pengelly who is the chair of the Stormont finance committee.

THE DUP chair of the finance committee Emma Little Pengelly flew home from America yesterday in time for a special sitting of the Stormont body currently at the centre of a political controversy.

The South Belfast assembly member was appointed to head up the committee following May's Assembly elections.

She had previously sat on the scrutiny body having been co-opted to the assembly in September last year after the seat was vacated by Jimmy Spratt, who retired on health grounds.

A close ally and former special adviser to Peter Robinson, she was selected to sit on the committee probing the £1.2 billion property sale by the Republic's 'bad bank 'Nama within 48 hours of being elected as an MLA.

What is Nama?

Mrs Pengelly who had been holidaying in Florida during the summer recess, flew back to Northern Ireland on Monday afternoon in time for the specially convened meeting to discuss the scandal.

She has yet to comment on the events of last week when her Finance Committee predecessor Daithí McKay resigned after the Irish News revealed he had been involved in 'backchannel' contacts with loyalist Jamie Bryson in the run up his giving evidence.

The DUP voted against allowing the loyalist to give evidence in open session before he appeared in front of the committee in September 2015.

Mr McKay resigned last Thursday after the revelations that he had directly and then through a Twitter account belonging to party member Thomas O'Hara, been involved in briefing the loyalist flag protester on how best to get his evidence into open session.

Who is Thomas O'Hara?

A message from the O'Hara account to Bryson fours days before he delivered his evidence said: "Daithí only one that can hit the button or tell the clerk to hit the button. But if it gets to the point that the majority of members are pushing him for it he may have to. You have to ensure that it doesn't get to that point".

Sinn Féin later advised the North Down loyalist on how to use 'Person A' to describe Peter Robinson throughout his evidence to the committee in order to enable him to deliver damning allegations about the DUP leader and alleged financial 'kickbacks' linked to the property sale.

The day before the hearing Sinn Féin contacted Bryson to say: "A wee suggestion for your closing paragraph. When talking about Robinson refer to him as 'Person A'. So say all you have to say about him referring to him as Person A. Then in your final line say: 'Person A is Peter Robinson MLA.' Means that the committee cannot interrupt you and means that you don't have to say Robbo's name until the very last second. So then it's job done!"

Read the communication

Mr Robinson has always denied he was to profit from the sale of the 'Project Eagle' portfolio to the American company Cerberus.

The Assembly Committee for Finance was recalled to meet at 10.30am this morning to consider the revelations made by the Irish News.

The meeting was called amid growing public pressure to address the political scandal. Complaints have already been made to the Stormont standards body that scrutinises assembly members behaviour and to the PSNI.

Deputy committee chair, the SDLPs Claire Hanna, will not be present at Tuesday's meeting as she remains on vacation with the assembly still officially in recess.

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