Northern Ireland

Jamie Bryson and Daithí McKay to be charged over ‘dirty tricks’

A PSNI officer watches Jamie Bryson on a screen in the Great Hall at Stormont during his controversial appearance before the finance committee's Nama inquiry in September 2015. Picture Mal McCann.
A PSNI officer watches Jamie Bryson on a screen in the Great Hall at Stormont during his controversial appearance before the finance committee's Nama inquiry in September 2015. Picture Mal McCann.

In the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland, three people are to be charged in connection with evidence given to a Stormont committee.

The Public Prosecution Service is to prosecute loyalist Jamie Bryson, former Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay and party member Thomas O'Hara in relation to an evidence session of Stormont's Finance Committee in September 2015.

All three face a charge of 'conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office'.

The charges are linked to correspondence obtained by the Irish News in 2016 which alleged that McKay, the chair of the committee at the time, had been in contact with Bryson via an intermediary - O'Hara - prior to his appearance before the committee.

The revelations caused a political scandal and resulted in McKay, one of the rising stars of the party, resigning his seat, becoming only the second MLA to do so.

All three are expected to be appear in court within weeks, with papers served yesterday.

The National Assets Management Agency (Nama), the Republic's 'bad bank,' was set up to deal with toxic loans after the 2008 property crash.

The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) is investigating a deal to sell Nama's interests in Northern Ireland deal after cash was transferred to an Isle of Man bank account.

A number of other investigations into the allegations were launched, including a probe by the Stormont Finance Committee.

In September 2015 Bryson was called to give evidence to the committee. Using privilege, he alleged five deal-fixers had been due a share of the Isle of Man money.

All parties, including then First Minster Peter Robinson, denied any wrongdoing.

Correspondence between Bryson and McKay, with O'Hara acting as a back channel, indicated that the then chair of the committee provided guidance on how the loyalist should best present his evidence to avoid the evidence session being halted.

There was no suggestion that the then North Antrim assembly member provided Bryson with any of the information delivered to the committee.

The charge is thought to centre instead around advice given on how to get around the committee's strict protocols on delivering oral evidence.

Following the 2016 revelations the DUP’s Maurice Morrow made a complaint to police in which the party chairman alleged that Bryson's appearance had caused public harm and was an effort to bring down the institutions.

Despite this, DUP MPs voted less than two years later, in January 2018, to invite Bryson to appear at Westminster before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

The Stormont committee also held a special meeting to discuss the political scandal which led to calls for the then Finance Minister Maírtin Ó Mulleoir to stand aside while an investigation took place to establish who in Sinn Féin was aware of the contact.

Mr Ó Mulleoir denied having prior knowledge of the communication.

A spokesperson for the PPS said: "The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has taken a decision to prosecute three individuals in relation to the alleged manipulation of evidence given to the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Finance and Personnel.

"After a careful consideration of all evidence, and having received advice from Senior Counsel, it has been decided to prosecute three suspects jointly on one charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.

"In taking these decisions, senior prosecutors considered evidence received from police in relation to allegations of the manipulation of the presentation of evidence put before the Assembly Committee for Finance and Personnel in September 2015.

"As court proceedings will shortly commence, the PPS would ask that there is no reporting, commentary or sharing of information on-line which would in any way prejudice these proceedings".