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Sinn Fein's Daithí McKay 'is an unlikely casualty of the Nama scandal'

A PSNI officer watches on a tv screen in the Great Hall in Stormont as Jamie Bryson appears before the Stormont finance committee's Nama inquiry last September. Picture by Mal McCann.
Chris Donnelly

WHEN the Independent TD, Mick Wallace, rose in the Dáil to make his explosive allegations regarding the sale of the Nama portfolio to Cerberus some 13 months ago, it was widely believed that at least one politician’s career could be a casualty of the developing scandal.

Few would have thought it would be the North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA, Daithí McKay.

McKay has distinguished himself as one of Sinn Féin’s most effective operators in the assembly, and he would have been widely expected to graduate to ministerial office in the near future had he not made this grave error of judgement.

The ‘coaching’ revelation, exposed by this paper yesterday precipitating the latest political crisis, once again illustrates the integrity of that ancient proverb 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'.

For the leading loyalist flag protest figure, Jamie Bryson, who has long opposed Sinn Féin even being in government, to apparently be secretly working with Sinn Féin members, including an MLA elected to the institution he wants them banned from, is not just ironic but points to how much both wanted certain information to get into the public domain through the finance committee hearing.

As chair of the Finance Committee tasked with impartially overseeing its business during the highly anticipated hearings, Daithí McKay must have known that any contact between himself and Jamie Bryson would leave him extremely vulnerable in the event of those correspondences coming into the public domain at a future point.

It was clear from the language employed in the initial Sinn Féin statement yesterday morning that McKay was in trouble and that Sinn Féin would not be seeking to merely close shop and attempt to see out yet another crisis.

This is new terrain for Sinn Féin in the sense that it marks the first time that the party has had to sacrifice a high profile party representative in the devolution era. Ironically, North Antrim was also the constituency of the first high profile DUP casualty, Ian Paisley Junior, who was forced to resign as Junior Minister in 2008 as controversy grew over allegations regarding his contacts with a developer.

There has been much speculation from political opponents of Sinn Féin suggesting that McKay is being used as a scapegoat by the republican party in an attempt to prevent any higher profile figures from being tainted by association with this affair.

According to this line of thinking, because the Sinn Féin leadership has traditionally kept a very tight controlling grip on the actions of its party members, it is logical to conclude that McKay would not have conceived of such a high risk move without approval of the party leadership.

Full Nama coverage:

I have difficulty with that argument on several grounds.

Firstly, if Daithí McKay was operating under the direction and in the knowledge of more senior Sinn Féin figures, then the party’s decision to effectively leave him with no option but to resign in such an embarrassing manner would be extremely risky as they would be vulnerable to an aggrieved McKay making any revelations at any subsequent point in time.

Secondly, the utterly cack-handed and amateur nature of what McKay and his colleague, Thomas O’Hara, were involved in certainly does not suggest a sophisticated, well-conceived strategy, involving as it did placing a remarkable degree of trust in a loyalist figure known for his erratic behaviour and conduct.

Finally, one of the features of Sinn Féin, as we move further away from the conflict and peace process era, has been how internal disputes have come into the public domain as never before, indicating how the era of deference and unparalleled party discipline is slowly waning – witness the party’s deeply divisive series of selection conventions in Fermanagh South Tyrone only a matter of months ago.

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