Even SF saw that prior contact with hearing witness was wrong

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In Northern Ireland we have been long used to a dysfunctional Assembly.

For most of its existence, post 1998, it did not even have something as key to democracy as an opposition.

For almost all the time the Executive has operated, the crucial concept of collective responsibility – that ministers publicly defend even those government decisions with which they privately disagree – has been at best patchy.

Ministers from one party have on occasion mocked achievements of ministers from another party and even taken other departments to court (a ridiculous state of affairs).

And one party has had special dispensation – Sinn Fein never faced specific sanction for outrages by the paramilitary group with which it was long associated such as the Northern Bank robbery, murders including that of Robert McCartney, spying at Stormont and breaking into Castlereagh.

Sinn Fein are new to democracy – and to say so is not a cheap jibe, but a reflection of the doctrine as articulated by one of its leading members, “ballot box in one hand and armalite in the other”. It only began contesting elections in the 1980s. It is only fair, however, to note that in most respects the party has travelled a long way. To a surprising extent its leadership seems willing to work the Stormont system.

Yet again and again it gets up on its high horse, perhaps over expenses (from a party that has notoriously murky finances) or over legacy issues (from a party linked to a terror group that is notoriously secretive about its own past).

Yesterday, however, Sinn Fein realised immediately that a parliamentary committee chair cannot contact witnesses before they appear in front of a committee. Imagine if Rupert Murdoch or Bob Diamond of Barclays had met MP committee members before being grilled by them at Westminster.

As Steven Agnew MLA says, right, it will be surprising if a party as controlled as SF was unaware of what happened with Daithi McKay. And as Stephen Farry MLA, the respected former minister, says, these revelations cast doubt over the whole Nama committee inquiry and need to be investigated.