Why did Sinn Féin act so quickly to end the career of a rising star?

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is an Irish News columnist with a background in politics and public relations. He is also a former member of the Policing Board.

Sinn Féin moved with speed in suspending Daithi McKay from the party
Sinn Féin moved with speed in suspending Daithi McKay from the party

THE Nama saga has claimed another scalp. This time its not a developer or an official, but a high flying Sinn Féin MLA, Daithi McKay.

As revealed by the Irish News, his fall came about through an association with the loyalist blogger and one time protestor, Jamie Bryson.

To his credit, in an age when erring politicians often have to be dragged kicking and screaming from political office, Mr McKay faced his responsibilities and fell on his sword like a samurai warrior.

Sinn Féin moved with equal speed in suspending Mr McKay from the party. Again an unusual act from a party that is more used to providing robust political cover for its members than any other Irish political party.

If taken at face value both of these moves are welcome developments, however, the speed of both actions seem to suggest that there is something wider at stake.

Third party coaching of a witness for an appearance before a committee is not that unusual. What is unusual is when the chair of the examining committee gets involved.

But from the information provided Mr McKay was not the person doing the coaching - it was another member of Sinn Féin.

So just why did Sinn Féin act so quickly to end the career of a rising star? Surely he could have had the whip withdrawn for a number of months but no, resignation was seen as the best course of action.

It's clear from the revealed texts that the Sinn Féin member exchanging those texts with Mr Bryson was an intimate confidant of Mr McKay.

Perhaps this is why Mr McKay is honourably taking the fall. Many in the wider nationalist community are incredulous that anyone from either Sinn Féin or the SDLP would be involved in any form of collaboration with the loyalist Mr Bryson but as so often in politics my enemy's enemy is my friend and at that time Sinn Féin was hell bent on embarrassing the DUP.

It's always been highly questionable whether Mr Bryson should have been called to the finance committee at all.

Bryson has made allegations that wouldn't stand the test of legal scrutiny. Most of his allegations have never been proven.

The committee members were extraordinarily light in their touch when it came to questioning him. Bryson was rarely challenged and he glowed in the publicity that attendance at Stormont gave him.

The finance committee inquiry was designed to be a show trial but it was completely hampered from the start by several official regulatory investigations which were on going - not least by the National Crime Agency.

Unsurprisingly politicos wanted to be seen to be doing something - even if what they were inquiring into was above their pay grade.

And this Nama fiasco was certainly well above the remit of a regional assembly especially given that it is taking the police, the NCA and regulatory authorities in the USA nearly a year to come to any conclusions.

Local politicians would have been better served awaiting the outcome of due process. But due process takes time and the pendulum of justice swings even slower and politicians live in the moment.

Eventually the truth may or may not come out over the sale of Nama assets in Northern Ireland. Either way the resignation of Mr McKay proves a cautionary lesson for all politicians that meddling for political advantage can come at a very high price - professionally and personally.

Now all the parties in the assembly are calling for an inquiry into their own inquiry process. How could it have any credibility if they are to do their own oversight?

The assembly members balked at the very independent body set up to review their pay and funding and ignored key findings because they were too independent.

Nevertheless there does need to be some kind of inquiry not just into Mr McKay's role in so called 'coaching' but also into any associations between other witnesses and members of the finance committee.

Were any briefings given to politicians on the inquiry prior to the witnesses giving evidence? If so, by who and to whom? Transparency is what's needed now.

Of course Sinn Féin and the DUP are now alone in the Executive and both probably share an inclination to prevent any further contagion.

Luckily this resignation took place during the long summer recess and some will hope that the issue fades into the ether before Stormont resumes in September. A week is a very long time in politics these days.