Northern Ireland

High profile trial of former Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay set to start this month

Former Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay pictured in 2016. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.
Former Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay pictured in 2016. Picture by Cliff Donaldson. Former Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay pictured in 2016. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.

A much anticipated criminal trial, involving one time high flying Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay, party member Thomas O'Hara and loyalist Jamie Bryson is to start this month.

In the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland, the three will appear in Belfast Magistrates Court on January 28, charged in connection with the presentation of evidence to a Stormont committee.

The Irish News revealed in June last year that the Public Prosecution Service had directed a prosecution in relation to a dramatic evidence session of the Finance Committee in September 2015.

All three men face a charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office "by the manipulation of the presentation of evidence" before the committee.

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 huge 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.

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The scandal had been linked to a Stormont investigation into the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) property deal.

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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.

It is alleged that McKay, with O'Hara acting as a back channel, provided guidance on how the loyalist should best present this evidence to avoid the evidence session being halted.

Following the 2016 revelations the DUP’s Maurice Morrow made a complaint to police. While it is believed no statement was made by Mr Morrow the complaint sparked a police investigation resulting in a decision to prosecute.

Following the scandal there were 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 and has since retired from political life, but may well be called to give evidence and be cross examined at the trial.

Senior DUP sources who were suspected at the time of providing information to Bryson may also find themselves called as witnesses during the trial.

All three men will appear at Belfast Magistrates Court on Tuesday, January 28.