Mairtin O Muilleoir breaks silence on Bryson scandal but refuses to step aside
FINANCE Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has denied having any knowledge of the secret backchannel communication between party colleagues and loyalist Jamie Bryson.
The Sinn Féin minister was on holiday in the Basque region when the details of the political scandal were made public in last Thursday's Irish News.
In his first official public statement since his return, Mr Ó Muilleoir claimed those seeking to link him to the controversy which forced the resignation of former Sinn Féin chairman of the finance committee Daithi McKay, were indulging in "petty party politicking".
Mr McKay resigned within hours of details of private messages between himself and the north Down loyalist, was made public.
Party colleague Thomas O'Hara, whose Twitter account was used to facilitate the private message exchange with the loyalist, has been suspended pending an internal Sinn Féin investigation.
During evidence given by Mr Bryson he named former DUP leader Peter Robinson in connection with a £7 million 'kickback' linked to the £1.2 billion property sale to American company Cerberus.
Mr Ó Muilleoir, who sat on the finance committee while the backchannel communication was taking place, has refused to stand aside to allow an investigation to take place.
The assembly standards commissioners and the PSNI have both received official complaints.
After four days of silence the finance minister issued a statement saying he had "absolutely no knowledge" of the Twitter communications.
"The attempts to link me to the contacts between Daithi McKay, Thomas O'Hara and Jamie Bryson are no more than petty party politicking," he said.
"They have absolutely no basis in truth or fact. I had no part in or knowledge of these inappropriate communications.
"I will co-operate readily and fully with any investigation. I am absolutely confident the outcome of any such investigation will confirm that I was totally unaware of these contacts until they were publicised this week.
"My political opponents will also have their chance to contribute to the investigation but if they do they will be required to present evidence rather than speculation or innuendo. I am confident in predicting that they will fail to do so."
However, the UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the minister's refusal to step aside "will serve to damage public confidence in the devolved institutions."
As leader of the largest opposition party he said it was "disappointing that Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has refused to step aside pending an investigation into events surrounding the alleged coaching of a witness.
"He had the opportunity to do his bit to help restore public confidence. In a straight choice between the greater good and self-interest, he answered, 'me, me, me!'
"There are certainly plenty of backbench Sinn Féin MLAs – some with previous ministerial experience - who could step into the breach. I urge Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Sinn Féin to reconsider", Mr Nesbitt added.