McCallister: Nama probe '˜will be quietly mothballed'

A former unionist MLA who was part of the Stormont group investigating the Nama property deal expects that the inquiry will be 'quietly mothballed'.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 29th August 2016, 5:17 pm
Updated Monday, 29th August 2016, 6:21 pm
John McCallister said both the DUP and Sinn Fein would just like Nama to go away
John McCallister said both the DUP and Sinn Fein would just like Nama to go away

John McCallister, an ex-member of the Assembly’s finance committee who lost his South Down MLA seat in May’s Assembly election, said that continuing with the probe once the Assembly reconvenes is unlikely to be of interest to either the DUP or Sinn Fein.

He was speaking in the wake of the revelation this month that the former chairman of the finance committee – Daithi McKay – had exchanged a series of messages with committee witness Jamie Bryson.

The exchange had come ahead of Mr Bryson’s appearance in September 2015, when he alleged that Peter Robinson was meant to receive money as part of the Nama deal – a claim strenuously denied by Mr Robinson.

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The messages show that Mr Bryson had been given guidance on how to best present his claims against Mr Robinson.

Once the contents of the messages was made public, Mr McKay quit as an MLA, and was suspended from Sinn Fein along with another party member, Thomas O’Hara, who had also been involved in the secret message exchange.

Back in March this year, the committee had released a report stating how much progress it had made in unravelling the details of the Nama deal.

It said that after eight months, evidence was still required from a further 18 key witnesses.

Since that time, the election has caused a shake-up in the committee’s membership, while the Assembly went on its summer recess on July 2, leaving little time to progress the inquiry.

Mr McCallister – who was formerly a member of the UUP, and then joined NI21 before becoming independent – said of the inquiry: “I’d have thought it’d be quietly mothballed...

“There’s a whole process there. If the committee was minded, they could follow [that] up.”

However, he felt the DUP had not seemed “that keen to go anywhere with it” last year.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein had been given “a bloody nose thus far in it” thanks to the Daithi McKay scandal.

“I don’t know why the big two parties would want to keep this thing going,” he said.

“Overall, it’s not in their interest. They would all probably just like Nama to go away...

“Neither side wants to put strain on the relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

“We’ve had an election. They’re the only two parties in government. And they need to get on and govern, and the last thing they need is bad blood between the two of them.”

The Nama deal was a massive property agreement involving the Republic of Ireland’s National Assets Management Agency (Nama).

Nama had taken control of a string of big property loans following the financial collapse in 2008.

The rights to those loans were then later sold on to a US outfit called Cerberus.

Then last summer an independent member of the Republic’s parliament – Mick Wallace – claimed that money from the deal was destined to reach an unnamed political figure in Northern Ireland.

Stormont’s finance committee, which had led the political investigation into the whole affair, is now chaired by Emma Pengelly of the DUP.

With the Assembly to start up again on September 4, the DUP was asked last week what is expected to happen when it comes to reconvening the inquiry.

It said: “That’s a matter for the finance committee to determine and they will have legal advice in that regard.”