NAMA inquiry: Stormont committee to compel witnesses

The committee wants to hear from witnesses from NAMA and the Department of Finance and Personnel
The committee wants to hear from witnesses from NAMA and the Department of Finance and Personnel

The chairman of Stormont’s finance committee has said that it has agreed to compel two witnesses to attend after a key witness refused to cooperate.

Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay, who from the outset of the NAMA inquiry has made clear that he believes the committee needs to be prepared to use all its powers to uncover whatever has gone on, said that the committee on Wednesday “agreed in principle” to use the power to compel witnesses.

If MLAs follow through on that threat, it will be the first time that the power has been used by a Stormont committee.

But a second obstacle emerged, when it became clear that Stormont’s Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), which is headed by Finance Minister Arlene Foster, is now uncooperative because it wants to consult with the National Crime Agency over its investigation before deciding what it will share with MLAs.

That stance led to Wednesday’s scheduled appearance of DFP permanent secretary David Sterling being cancelled at Mrs Foster’s request.

Mr McKay said that the committee agreed that it would seek to compel both DFP and NAMA to attend with the inquiry and formally ask Mr Sterling to come before it.

DUP MLA Jim Wells, a member of the committee, claimed at the hearing that legal advice to the committee stated that it was “not to touch this [the NAMA issue] with a bargepole”.

The committee is also to write to US fund Pimco to come to the inquiry. Pimco had been interested in buying NAMA’s Northern Ireland loan book but the potential deal fell apart when NAMA was informed that Frank Cushnahan, its former adviser, was in line for £5m as part of the transaction.

Meanwhile, former loyalist flag protestor Jamie Bryson has written to Mr McKay claiming to have evidence relevant to its NAMA deal inquiry.

The north Down man’s letter came after the committee appealed for anyone with information to come forward.

In his letter to Mr McKay, Mr Bryson said he was willing to appear before MLAs “and provide documentation, evidence and to share my knowledge in relation to the NAMA deal”.

Mr Bryson claimed it was “indisputable that I am in possession of much more information than most of the committee”.

He added: “I am in possession of information that will bring to light much that is being hidden in relation to NAMA and I would find it extremely concerning if the committee refused to hear this irrefutable evidence.”