Finance Minister Mairtin O;Muilleoir came off leave to discuss areas of cooperation with his Basque counterpart Ricardo Gatzagaetxebarria

Finance Minister Mairtin O;Muilleoir came off leave to discuss areas of cooperation with his Basque counterpart Ricardo Gatzagaetxebarria

SINN Fein Finance Minister Mairtin O’Muilleoir is refusing to stand down despite calls today from the Finance Committee urging him to temporarily step aside during an investigation into witness coaching.

It met today following allegations Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay and party worker pal Thomas O’Hara were revealed last week as having ‘coached’ loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson who was set to give evidence to the committee last September.

Committee members said Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir should step aside while the exchanges were investigated.

He responded in a statement by saying: “There is no basis for me to step aside as Finance Minister and I have absolutely no intention of doing so.”

Party big guns have rowed in behind him.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has insisted that Mr Ó Muilleoir will remain in his position.

Mr McGuinness said: “Máirtín enjoys my full support as finance minister and he will not be stepping aside on the basis of calls from opposition parties, much less calls from the DUP.”

The DUP, UUP, SDLP and TUV members of the committee all voted for the action, while Sinn Féin member Caitríona Ruane said Mr Ó Muilleoir had done nothing wrong and voted against.

The finance committee is now chaired by the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly, a former SPAD to Peter Robinson when he was First Minister..

She told today’s specially-convened meeting of the committee that there were a number of questions that required answers to ensure confidence in the committee following the claims.

“Any inquiry must be evidence-based and fair to everybody,” said Mrs Little-Pengelly.

She also said it would be important to establish if the communications between Daithí McKay and another party member with loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson extended to “other members of Sinn Féin” and if telephone conversations or meetings also took place.

The DUP has formally complained to the police and to the assembly’s Standards Commissioner, Douglas Bain, about the allegations, first revealed in The Irish News.

Mr Ó Muilleoir was directly referenced in one message from Sinn Féin member Thomas O’Hara’s Twitter account to Mr Bryson, which said: “I’m trying to establish what Máirtín or someone could jump on and say there’s no way we can turn him (Jamie Bryson) away, this is credible, relevant and in the public interest.”

During Tuesday’s committee hearing, the DUP’s Jim Wells said it was “inconceivable” that Mr Ó Muilleoir did not know about the communication.

Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay suspened and so has his back channel man Thomas O'Hara

Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay suspended and so has his back channel man Thomas O’Hara

“There is a cloud of doubt as to the voracity of the statement he made yesterday where he said he knew nothing,” said Mr Wells.

Sinn Féin MLA Caitríona Ruane defended Mr Ó Muilleoir and said she believed any investigation should be left to the assembly’s standards commissioner.

“Let the person whose remit it is investigate,” she told the Stormont finance committee.

Mr Ó Muilleoir denies having any knowledge of the messages sent ahead of Mr Bryson’s appearance before the committee’s inquiry into the £1.2bn sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland property portfolio.

Nama is the Republic of Ireland’s “bad bank”, set up to deal with toxic loans after the 2008 property crash.

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 deal.

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