DUP and SF join forces to soften Nama motion

The UUP addressing the Nama motion in the Assembly chamber
The UUP addressing the Nama motion in the Assembly chamber

The DUP and Sinn Fein yesterday came together in the Assembly to soften an Opposition motion calling for further investigation into the Nama deal scandal.

With the exception of the DUP and Sinn Fein, every MLA who voted was in favour of a motion put forward by the Ulster Unionists which urged further investigation by Stormont’s Finance Committee and called on Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness to make a statement to the Assembly “to restore the public confidence in these institutions”.

But the DUP and Sinn Fein – which between them can vote anything through the Assembly – voted for a Sinn Fein amendment which changed the wording of the motion to remove those parts.

Independent MLA and Justice Minister Claire Sugden did not vote.

Prior to May’s election, the Finance Committee produced a report into how Nama’s Northern Ireland loanbook was sold for £1.3 billion in 2014, but Opposition MLAs yesterday said that further BBC Spotlight revelations showed the need for further enquiries.

But the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly, who chairs the committee, strongly opposed that, saying that the National Crime Agency did not want such an approach due it its own probe.

Mrs Pengelly said that the NCA had warned the committee that further probes could hamper its work and she accused Opposition parties of indulging in self-publicity.

“To debate, work, and inquire and add no value is pointless,” she said.

“Worse than that, to debate, inquire and cause the investigation harm would be disgraceful and the exact opposite of what we are elected to do.”

The TUV leader, Jim Allister, asked the Speaker why Mrs Pengelly had not declared an interest in the matter, as “the wife of Richard Pengelly who was at the heart of the department which made some dodgy recommendations in respect of Nama and who also served as a special adviser to the First Minister, who has also been implicated in these matters”.

UUP MLA Alan Chambers said that details of millions of pounds in ‘fixers fees’ which caused an initial bidder to pull out of the deal and “revelations of alleged brown bags stuffed with cash being handed over and accepted, would sit comfortably in some corrupt, gangster-controlled country in some uncivilised part of the world”.

He added: “We should also divert the spotlight off the BBC programme of that name and the other arms of the media...we should be grateful to them for casting a light in the dark corners that many would prefer to stay dark.”

The UUP and the SDLP were scathing on the stance of the Assembly’s two main parties. UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: “There is an NCA investigation, which is an investigation - it is not a convenient excuse to ignore the will of this House.”

The SDLP’s Alex Attwood railed against the DUP for labelling the call for further Stormont scrutiny as “bizarre and perverse”.

“The words perverse and bizarre are a smokescreen to deny accountability and let’s be very clear about it,” he said.

Earlier this month the BBC’s Spotlight programme revealed Frank Cushnahan – who DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson had nominated to the Nama Northern Ireland advisory committee – accepting £40,000 in cash from a property developer at the entrance to a hospital.

The programme also broadcast recordings in which Mr Cushnahan – who was described by former First Minister Peter Robinson as a “pillar of the establishment” – asked the developer to lie to detectives if he was questioned about the cash transaction.

But yesterday Sinn Fein – which with former MLA Daithi McKay had led the charge on probing the Nama deal through Stormont’s committee system – yesterday joined the DUP in questioning what a further Stormont inquiry would achieve.

John O’Dowd said it was “clear that something stinks at the heart of Nama”. But he expressed doubt the Finance Committee could get to the truth of it.

Last night the DUP issued a withering dismissal of the entire day’s business in the Assembly chamber.

DUP chief whip Trevor Clarke said: “The only difference between today’s proceedings in the Assembly and any other day was that ‘Opposition Day’ was typed on the Order Papers.”

He added: “Opposition Day was little more than Groundhog Day with individual parties putting forward their own individual motions just like every other sitting of the Assembly...A few months ago the oppositions complained about the amount of time they would have for debates. From today’s experience the biggest challenge for those parties is to find something relevant to say.”

Sam McBride: Limp Stormont Opposition risks being outshone by political minnows