Northern Ireland

Nama inquiry: Chairman Daithí McKay defends Jamie Bryson hearing

Daithí McKay Image copyright NI Assembly
Image caption Daithí McKay is chairing a Stormont inquiry into the £1.2bn sale of Nama's property loan portfolio in Northern Ireland

The chair of an inquiry into Northern Ireland's biggest property deal has defended its decision to take evidence in public from Jamie Bryson.

Loyalist blogger Mr Bryson alleged that Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson was one of five people set to receive a payment after the Nama deal.

Mr Robinson rejected the allegations.

Chairman Daithí McKay said many people use parliamentary privilege to make claims but it was the committee's job to test evidence and find "the truth".

'Reluctant'

The Sinn Féin MLA chairs Stormont's finance committee, which is holding one of several international inquiries into the £1.2bn property loan sale by the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) - the Republic of Ireland's 'bad bank'.

Speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, he was questioned about why Mr Bryson was allowed to make serious allegations in public about the five people, without providing documentary evidence to back up his claims.

Image caption Jamie Bryson alleged during the inquiry hearing that Peter Robinson was to receive payment as a result of the Nama NI deal

"A lot of people make allegations and a lot of politicians make allegations using privilege as well. Our job as a committee is to see if any of those allegations stand up," Mr McKay said.

"We need to now hear from a lot of the parties that have been reluctant to come before the committee or respond to any of our correspondence."

Mr Robinson has already said he would be "happy to appear before the committee" and Mr McKay told Good Morning Ulster he would ensure the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader was given the "time and space" to respond to Mr Bryson.

However, Mr McKay said two former DUP finance ministers, Simon Hamilton and Sammy Wilson, had not yet agreed to give evidence.

"So that is why we have Jamie Bryson, that is why we have other parties coming forward, because some within government are not coming forward to the committee," Mr McKay added.

On Wednesday, Mr Robinson said the claims were "scurrilous and unfounded", and without "one iota of evidence".

Image caption Peter Robinson said in July that no-one in his family or party hoped to benefit by "one penny" from the sale

During his testimony, Mr Bryson also alleged the other beneficiaries of the Nama deal were to be solicitor Ian Coulter, accountant David Watters, ex-Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan and developer Andrew Creighton.

Nama: The key figures and background you need to know

Timeline of Nama's NI property deal

Mr Bryson told the committee that the money was paid into an Isle of Man bank account controlled by Mr Coulter.

When asked for a response to Mr Bryson's allegations, a spokesman for Mr Watters and Mr Creighton said there would be "no comment at this time".

A spokeswoman for Mr Coulter re-issued a statement from July when he said no politician was to benefit from the deal.

Mr Cushnahan has previously stated that he never had "any meetings, dealings, correspondence or contact" with Cerberus or any of its representatives.

The controversy began in July when a politician in the Irish parliament alleged that £7m was to be channelled to a bank account that was "reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician".

That has led to a number of inquiries, including a criminal investigation led by the National Crime Agency.

The BBC has established that money in an Isle of Man bank account was intended to facilitate payments to deal-fixers.

Cerberus, the US investment firm that bought the loans from Nama, has denied that any improper or illegal payments were made on its behalf.

Nama said the sales process was "robust, competitive and secured the best outcome for the Irish taxpayer".

Who is Jamie Bryson?

Image copyright Pacemaker

Jamie Bryson first came to public prominence during loyalist protests against Belfast City Council's decision in December 2012 to limit the number of days that the union flag flies from the city hall. It had previously been flown all year round.

Some of the demonstrations resulted in violence.

Earlier this year, Mr Bryson was found guilty of taking part in unlawful public processions as part of the widespread demonstrations. He received a six-month suspended sentence.

Although he was not involved in violence, a judge said the unlawful marches caused disorder at a "very tense and sensitive time".

He previously stood as an independent candidate in the 2011 local government election, receiving 167 votes in North Down.

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