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Secret meeting must be explained

HOLDING a clandestine meeting on matters of clear public interest is rarely a good idea for those elected to high office.

Among other undesirable qualities, it speaks of hubris, a disregard for voters and a casual approach to transparent and accountable government.

In the case of the secret meeting hosted by DUP first minister Peter Robinson at Stormont Castle on March 25 2014, it also dealt a blow to the integrity of power-sharing by excluding Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Robinson did, however, include Dan Quayle, a former US vice president who is now a senior figure in Cerberus, a private-equity investment firm; 10 days later it succeeded in buying Nama's Northern Ireland assets at a knock-down price. Finance minister Simon Hamilton attended.

Also at the meeting was Ian Coulter, who at the time was the managing partner of Belfast law firm Tughans.

Mr Coulter left the company in January this year after he was found to have diverted £7 million to an Isle of Man bank account. Tughans carried out work on the Cerberus deal.

As this newspaper's coverage has made clear, this meeting is central to the scandal which has developed since TD Mick Wallace told the Dáil last week that he believed the £7m was in fact "earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician", and which the PSNI last night said it was investigating. Mr Robinson has denied that the money was intended for him and welcomed the police investigation.

It is impossible to imagine what benefit to good government could have been achieved by holding such a clandestine meeting, and Mr Robinson or his party has yet to offer a satisfactory explanation.

The Law Society, too, needs to explain itself. The society describes itself as an "exemplar of legal professionalism" yet has been variously confused by whether it was even able to investigate Mr Coulter's activities.

The public deserves better.

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