Northern Ireland

Nama 'coaching': Sinn Féin's Thomas O'Hara suspended over claims

Thomas O'Hara
Image caption Thomas O'Hara is alleged to have coached Jamie Bryson before he appeared before a Stormont committee

Sinn Féin have suspended a party member implicated in allegations of coaching a witness who gave evidence to a Stormont inquiry.

Thomas O'Hara, along with Daithí McKay, is alleged to have coached the loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson before his appearance at Stormont's National Management Agency (Nama) inquiry.

Mr McKay resigned as an MLA on Thursday and apologised for his actions.

The DUP has made a formal complaint to Stormont's watchdog.

Sinn Féin said it would welcome an inquiry to investigate the claims, which emerged after leaked Twitter messages between Mr Bryson, Mr McKay and Mr O'Hara were obtained by the BBC's Nolan Show and The Irish News.

The messages were exchanged before Mr Bryson testified at a finance committee inquiry, chaired by Mr McKay, into the £1.2bn sale of Nama's property loan portfolio in Northern Ireland.

The inquiry was set up last year due to political controversy over the deal.

DUP Chairman Maurice Morrow submitted his complaint to the Assembly Standards Commissioner, citing paragraph three of the Stormont code of conduct which emphasises the need for MLAs to act with integrity and not bring the assembly into disrepute.

The commissioner has the power to investigate former MLAs.

BBC News NI's Political Editor Mark Devenport - Analysis

Mr O'Hara stood unsuccessfully as a Sinn Féin council candidate in Ballymena back in 2011.

Sinn Féin say they will cooperate with any investigation into the matter.

It is not yet clear if a formal complaint has been made - for the assembly commissioner to take action that has to happen within the next four weeks.

The clock is also ticking on Mr McKay's replacement - Sinn Féin would have to co-opt another party member to take over as an MLA within the next seven days in order to avoid triggering a by-election.

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

The inquiry was investigating an allegation made in the Dáil (Irish parliament) that a politician or political party in Northern Ireland stood to profit from the loan sale.

Last September, Mr Bryson used a meeting of the committee to name former DUP leader Peter Robinson as the individual he referred to as "Person A" in relation to the scandal.

The then first minister of Northern Ireland strongly denied he had sought to benefit in any way from the multi-million pound property deal.

On Thursday, Mr McKay said he accepted that his actions were "inappropriate, ill-advised and wrong".

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