Daithí McKay could be forced to appear before committee in first legislation test

Former Finance Committee chair Daithí McKaycould be forced to give evidence despite resignation.
Former Finance Committee chair Daithí McKaycould be forced to give evidence despite resignation.

NORTH Antrim MLA Daithí McKay, who resigned after details of backchannel communications between the republican and loyalist Jamie Bryson were made public, can be forced to attend a finance committee investigation to explain his actions.

The Stormont committee held a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the political scandal that has lead to calls for the Finance Minister Maírtin Ó Mulleoir to stand

aside while an investigation into the allegations can establish who in Sinn Féin was aware of the contact.

It centres around a committee appearance last September by Mr Bryson, at the time chaired by Mr McKay, investigating allegations of political corruption around the Nama, Northern property portfolio sale.

Current Chair of the committee Emma Little Pengelly agreed that both Mr McKay and the minister should be called before the assembly investigative body to answer questions about the Bryson backchannel.

While Mr Ó Mulleoir has denied having prior knowledge of the communication, Mr McKay resigned within hours of the Irish News revealing details of the backchannel saying it was "inappropriate, ill-advised and wrong".

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He has made no further comment since and while Mr Ó Mulleoir has said he will cooperate with all investigations there has been no indication of how Mr McKay intends to answer the call for further information.

Sources say he was issued with a letter from the clerk to the committee this week asking him to provide written details of his dealings with the loyalist witness with a view to appearing and answering questions at a later date.

Despite Mr McKay resigning his elected role it is understood that the committee retains the power to compel him to appear as a witness.

The committee can force Mr McKay under section 44 and 45 of the NI Act, which give the Stormont body legislative powers to summons witnesses.

However, a Stormont source has said up until now the powers have never had to be used as most witnesses willingly coperate with investigations.

"Saying that we've never had an investigation as controversial and potentially politically, damaging as this one", said a senior Stormont official.

"Add to that the fact the committee is relying on a key witness who is no longer a member of the assembly, a person you would imagine in the circumstances will be a fairly reluctant witness and this may be the first real test of the powers", they added.