Mairtin O Muilleoir accuses McKay and Bryson of ‘subterfuge'

Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir accused Daithí McKay of engaging in 'subterfuge'. Picture by Ann McManus
Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir accused Daithí McKay of engaging in 'subterfuge'. Picture by Ann McManus

FINANCE Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has accused his Sinn Féin colleague Daithí McKay of engaging in "subterfuge" through his backchannel dealings with loyalist Jamie Bryson.

Finance committee discusses Nama coaching revelations

Mr Ó Muilleoir made the remark as he spoke for the first time yesterday about the finance committee coaching controversy.

The South Belfast MLA was named in the Twitter messages between Mr Bryson and an assistant to Mr McKay, who was Stormont finance committee chairman at the time.

"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 Sinn Féin worker Thomas 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."

There have been calls for Mr Ó Muilleoir to step aside until investigations into the coaching controversy are concluded.

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

The finance minister conducted a series of interviews with BBC, UTV and RTE yesterday, however, he was unavailable to speak to The Irish News which broke the story last week.

According to the Department of Finance, the interviews, which were conducted on the department's property, were organised by Sinn Féin with Mr Ó Muilleoir speaking as one of the party's MLAs, rather than in his capacity as finance minister.

Speaking to RTE – where he was billed as Stormont finance minister – Mr Ó Muilleoir said his "blood was boiling" when he learned that he had been "dragged" into the controversy.

He said he was unaware of the private messages between Mr O'Hara and Mr Bryson ahead of the finance committee hearing. The minister said he "knew nothing" about the exchanges and was "shocked and surprised" to learn of their content.

Asked whether he consulted with Mr McKay or Mr O'Hara ahead of Mr Bryson's finance committee appearance, Mr Ó Muilleoir replied "absolutely not".

He said the first time he heard Mr Bryson's evidence was when the loyalist appeared before the committee.

"I think anyone who watches a recording of that meeting will see that my questioning of Mr Bryson was fair but robust," he said.

The minister said questions about what Mr Bryson, Mr McKay and Mr O'Hara were planning in the correspondence were for them to answer.

"Whatever subterfuge they were up to only they can explain," he said.

Mr McKay was unavailable for comment.

Mr Bryson said he would not be "engaging in a 'he said, she said' over this".

"It is a matter for Mr O'Muillieor to justify his own position, in whichever way he chooses to construct that defence," he said.