Were Sinn Fein orchestrating a conspiracy to oust Peter Robinson?

Sinn Fein
Sinn Fein

Just when you think that politics here can’t become any more bizarre, a few people get together and do something that proves you spectacularly, monumentally wrong.

And thank goodness, say I, because it’s the congenital madness of the place that keeps a roof over my head.

That said, even an old cynic like me had to shake my head, rub my eyes and check the calendar when I first heard the news about Jamie Bryson and Daithi McKay.

Let’s be honest, if someone had told you a few months ago that Bryson would be working hand-in-glove with McKay, an influential rising star within Sinn Fein, to inflict maximum damage on Peter Robinson, how many of you would have believed it? And yet that seems to be what happened in the run-up to Bryson’s appearance before the DFP committee last September.

There are a number of questions which need answered. Who initiated the exchange? Who, apart from Bryson, McKay and O’Hara, knew about the exchange? For instance, did Bryson inform the people who had been supplying him with his information – presumed to have been close to the DUP leadership and the NAMA documents – that he was working with the Sinn Fein chairman of the DFP committee?

Why was McKay dumped so quickly? Did he fall on his sword because he recognised he had crossed a Rubicon in terms of personal behaviour and embarrassed his party and leadership; or was he sacrificed to protect others? Did the other SF members of the DFP committee (Mairtin O Muilleoir and Michaela Boyle) know about the Bryson/McKay ‘arrangement’? Did any other members of Sinn Fein, including the leadership, know what was going on? Who leaked the exchange and for what purpose? And, the most important question of all, was there a Sinn Fein-orchestrated conspiracy to ‘get’ Peter Robinson?

Actually, there is another question: is there any risk to the stability of the Executive? Probably not. Even Sammy Wilson, who has been touring the studios laying into Bryson and Sinn Fein, has accepted that the DUP and Sinn Fein will keep on working together.

But what would happen if, as Mike Nesbitt, Jim Allister and elements of the DUP believe, evidence emerges that McKay/O’Hara were working under the direction of the Sinn Fein leadership?

As is so often the case when this sort of story breaks, I suspect that most of these questions will not be answered: and particularly if it’s decided that an answer could do damage to the political process. And, as we all know, the political process is “too big and too important” to fail. The show will be kept on the road.

Not because nurturing dysfunction is the right thing to do, but because no one - even the most strident critics - has a viable or available alternative to put in its place. So rather than risk a ‘return to the bad old days’, ears will be blocked, eyes averted and damaging evidence filed away somewhere.

Sinn Fein and the DUP know that they have to work together or fall apart. And if that means an awful lot of holding noses and biting tongues then so be it.

There will be an inquiry into the Bryson/McKay relationship and the damage it has done to the credibility of the Assembly’s committees – the bedrock of accountability.

Conclusions will be drawn on the nature and scale of any wrongdoing and reforms will be introduced to make sure it can never happen again. There may even be a public and official apology from Martin McGuinness on behalf of his party.

But don’t expect a witch hunt. That is not going to happen. Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness do not want to return to the bitterness and instability that dominated politics here for most of 2015. They have bigger fish to fry, particularly in terms of Brexit and a difficult economic climate and I think they both accept that Theresa May will not be providing a reassuring shoulder or extended loans.

Bizarre is what passes for normal here. We’re so used to it that we tend to shrug our collective shoulders and accept that a way will be found - be it fudge, sticking plaster, cash or somersault - to keep at least three wheels on the wagon. And that’s what will happen this time, too.