A cautious approach to the McKay affair is right. But for the sake of Executive cohesion, O Muilleoir needs to say more or stand aside.

So rather than buckle down to the altogether tougher demands of trying the govern the place, the politicians are having themselves a jolly crisis. Far more fun isn’t it? And the more bizarre the better. But might there just be a chance that the Executive will in the end decide not to waste a good crisis, deal with it transparently and emerge stronger as a result?  If guilt proves to be  limited as is claimed, why should we all suffer?

The newspapers for all their partisan leanings  are playing the “crisis” cautiously, reflecting the careful behaviour of the Executive leaderships so far. It’s early days but this is a good sign.

Allison Morris in the Irish News sums up best the questions posed forensically by Jim Allister QC.  But the paper’s John Manley points out that

it took five days but finally the DUP got around to calling for Máirtín Ó Muilleoir to step aside as finance minister  until the investigation into the Daithí McKay-Jamie Bryson backchanneling scandal is concluded.

The party belatedly realised that tacitly backing Mr Ó Muilleoir remaining as a minister was not sustainable given the chorus of calls from the opposition for him to go – albeit temporarily. To regard this as a sudden hardening of relations at the heart of the executive would be to vastly overstate its significance.

It may merely be some expedient manoeuvring that enables the DUP to avoid a barracking from fellow unionists for propping up Sinn Féin.

When Assembly sittings resume in a couple of weeks’ time, the extent of the damage to mutual and public confidence may  be exposed. What more is there to say until the Standards Commissioner reports?

. As things stand, there is now deadlock over new Finance committee chair Emma Pengelly’s call for  Mairtin O Muilleoir to “ step down” as finance minister at least temporarily and the man himself’s  refusal to do so, adding  blank denial of  any knowledge.

This state of affairs would be quite a big deal in any mature parliament. In our still juvenile institutions its significance remains to be seen. According to  Alastair Campbell’s ( alas, mythical , it seems ) “golden rule” of media frenzies, if it lasts longer than seven or so  days, you’ve got yourself  a crisis. Well, whatever the  social media are doing, the print media have been pretty restrained so far.

All parties need to learn  the hard lessons of how to behave credibly under pressure and resist rolling themselves into a tight ball in the hope it goes away or can be toughed out, regardless of the damage

The big question now is how Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness will handle the affair. Will Mrs Foster adopt Mrs Pengelly’s call for the Finance minister to step down temporarily and what will be the Sinn Fein response? Will it derail them or spur them on tackle the main business of the Executive?

Added later 

Assuming no deep-laid conspiracy, much of the solution seems to rest with Mairtin O Meuilloir, then the senior SF figure on the Finance Committee. There is a strong suggestion that he knew something was up from Daithi McKay.  From such a witness as Bryson  who was a most improbable whistleblower, he might have treated  the allegation of  Peter Robinson taking kickbacks frivolously, with just enough in the swirl of “Swish Family Robinson” events  to create an ounce of plausibility and  to be worth a punt against the DUP.   But let’s not forget that Bryson’s charge was discounted at the time; otherwise there would have an immediate major police investigation and a political upheaval accompanying Robinson’s coincidental resignation soon afterwards.

Sinn Fein may now be  digging in in the belief that all the other parties the DUP included are manufacturing a crisis to do them down.

They would be wrong to  do that. O Muilleoir owes it to his ministerial office in the Executive and the Assembly as a  whole to say what he knew and when he knew it, even it exposes frivolity and poor judgement. He will have to do so sooner or later, to the Standards Commissioner.  Why not speak now and lance the boil before it festers? It would be embarrassing but no more than that. It wouldn’t be a hanging offence. Embarrassment can be as hard to deal with as more substantial guilt, but SF would gain credit for mature political behaviour.

On the other hand if O Muilleoir still refuses to say amore, the other parties should not force the issue now. He may not wish to say anything prejudicial in public about McKay before McKay himself is asked for evidence. That would be understandable. Frustrating though it would be, the other parties may have to await the verdict  of the Standards commissioner.  O Muilleoir  might have to weigh the advantages of continuing silence now against the possibility of a harsher verdict later.

With his unrivalled experience Ric Wilford describes the bigger picture for the whole Assembly in the Belfast Telegraph.

…the apparent incentive towards UUP-SDLP co-operation does, at the same time, lend some urgency to the need for the DUP and Sinn Fein to cleave more closely together in an albeit loveless political co-habitation.

It seems highly unlikely, indeed utterly remote, that the current controversy will lead to the demise of the diarchy: McKay’s swift resignation as an MLA, coupled with the suspension of O’Hara and the, to date, measured response of the DUP leadership – Sammy Wilson aside – to the matter, indicates that it will be business more or less as usual for Arlene Foster and Martin McGuiness.

If anything, the First and deputy First Ministers may be even more strongly motivated to unveil a new agreed policy on one or more of the neuralgic issues that bedevil Northern Ireland, not least the past.

The final level that will play out is the wider condition of popular opinion towards our institutions in general and politicians in particular.

 

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  • Skibo

    Actually he doesn’t. Tell me any precedence for the Minister stepping down?

  • Declan Doyle

    There is no reason on earth why Mairtin should step down other than to comply with opponent’s hyberbole and opportunistic hysterics. Not a shred of evidence point to him having anything to do with the bryson/mckay/ohara ménage à trios. The fact that he is a capable and popular Shinner might be scaring those who cannot comfortably pin him as murdering terrorist, removing a talent with such harnessing potential would be very convenient.

  • Brian Walker

    It’s entirely counterproductive to Sinn Fein’s wider interests to be too defensive about this affair. I think the evidence suggests Mairtin knew something was up via McKay. He needs to say what he knew and when he knew it, He will have to eventually, to the Standards Commissioner and perhaps to the police.. He may have a perfectly innocent explanation but the allegation that Robinson was taking kickbacks was potential dynamite. At the time it was treated as a piece of mischief, coming from such an improbable source;.otherwise the police would have mounted an immediate investigation.
    ..
    I share all the scepticism about this. But Mairitin will have to give an account of his role whatever it was, frivolous or otherwise. Frivolity would expose poor judgement but would not be a hanging offence Why not speak now and offer an apology?.

  • Katyusha

    Mairtin should stand his ground until his opponents can find even a shred of substantial evidence against him. We’d never get anywhere if a minister had to resign every time he was subject to unsubstantiated allegations.

  • Gopher

    Jim Wells, who was subsequently exonerated, Peter Robinson, who was subsequently exonerated.

  • Declan Doyle

    That’s just the point Brian. There is literally nothing, not a shred of evidence, not a leaked email or an overheard conversation that links Mairtin to this mess. It’s crazy in politics when unsubstantiated allegations can force someone to step aside and clog up the machinery of government.

  • chrisjones2

    How then does he account for the points raised by Allister. On what basis did he form such a clear opinion on the Blessed Ones evidence? And why was he cited in the emails? What conversations did McKay or others have with him?

  • chrisjones2

    The emails / messages refer to him and are borne out by the role he later played in Committee. There may be an easy explanation. We should hear it

  • chrisjones2

    I think there has to be an allegation of a crime before PSNI plod in

  • chrisjones2

    Dont spoil SFs position with facts

  • Skibo

    Love that word “exonerated”. Cleared of blame or to be put more precisely ” we know you did it, we just can’t prove it”.
    That is what you will say when Mairtin is finally cleared also.
    How did the Red Sky issue go? Did Nelson resign or step aside?
    The report by the social and development committee was just completely ignored by DUP. Brimstone ended up getting a promotion.
    Did Peter step aside during the NAMA investigation? Did he step aside because of the investigation?

  • Skibo

    I believe the messages also mentioned Peter Robinson and Naomi Long.
    Can we say that Peter Robinson gave a full and frank report to the committee. Did Sammy Wilson come before it?
    Jamie Bryson figured he had the smoking gun to flush out those connected but looks like he only had a water pistol unless he is now willing to release the information he says he has.

  • Skibo

    Facts seem to something that we are very short on when DUP ministers get “exonerated”

  • Gopher

    You asked for precedence and I gave two. I think you are confusing investigations with regards Peter Robinson.

  • Gopher

    In the case of Jim Wells the facts are clear his accuser was charged with and admitted wasting police time

  • Declan Doyle

    A defensive approach I’d quite necessary when dealing with unfounded allegations. Just because ones opponents push and push to damage you, does not mean that one should allow oneself to be damaged, particularly if no wrong doing has occurred.

  • Granni Trixie

    You failed to state that Naomi has spoken out strongly about hints in the correspondence that she had been involved in some wrongdoing.

  • Granni Trixie

    Have I misunderstood but was he not mentioned in dispatches/emails?
    I honestly think that he could lift the cloud of suspicion hanging over him if he would subject himself to a thorough and public Q and A – by the likes of Allsn Morrison say.

  • Declan Doyle

    So if I send an email to someone tonight mentioning your name, does that mean you know anything or are anyway connected to the content?

  • Jollyraj

    If his hands are clean he should have nothing to fear from any line of questioning on the matter.

  • Brendan Heading

    On what basis did he form such a clear opinion on the Blessed Ones evidence?

    By reading the specific allegations on blog ? It’s not rocket science.

    And why was he cited in the emails?

    MOM was referred to as a person who might respond to testimony phrased a certain way. This does not mean he was involved. Indeed, a conceit like this might work even better if he had been specifically left out of it.

    Imagine I wrote an article and said to Mick, “well, if I talk about X or Y, Chris Jones will immediately jump on it” – it doesn’t mean that you were involved, just that I deliberately arranged the wording expecting that it would elicit a specific response.

    Nobody has landed a convincing punch on MOM yet, and that includes Allister. He’s in serious trouble if any kind of real evidence emerges showing that he was involved in this or had knowledge of it. His confident assertions to the contrary make it unlikely that anything damaging will be found.

  • Brendan Heading

    He will have to eventually, to the Standards Commissioner and perhaps to the police.

    Let’s face it, the police won’t touch this. They’re scared to death of MLAs.

    The Standards Commissioner is little better. Historically he has taken extended time periods to investigate anything. His reports generally tend to err on the side of the MLA; and on the rare occasions when they propose disciplinary action, the assembly vetoes it. This may be why some are keen to push all of this to his office.

    Why not speak now and offer an apology?

    One possible explanation is that he has nothing to apologise for.

  • Brendan Heading

    As have SF ..

  • Jollyraj

    Well, his name certainly seems to be floating around amidst all this mess. If you’re right, and he’s been wronged, one thing he would stand to gain would be to remove the large grubby question mark that has now been placed above his head.

  • Jollyraj

    Not quite sure how his being confident makes it any more or less likely that something unsavoury may emerge regarding his involvement?

  • Croiteir

    He has given an account – nothing to do with him, now it is up to the accusers to get the smoking gun

  • Granni Trixie

    No, but as a public rep I would want to answer questions and reassure the public.

  • Granni Trixie

    Was that not the case Involving one woman you refer to? Was there not also complaints from members of an audience who believed he said certain things to them but which he said “in context” meant something else?

  • Granni Trixie

    To clarify, NL was not on the committee infact I believe she was not an MLA at the time.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Problem is Neil he is not under suspicion from themmuns but under suspicion from “Allusuns” ?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Would appear others do not believe the word of Marty either ? http://thepensivequill.am/2013/08/harvey-and-mcglynn-versus-marty.html

  • Declan Doyle

    Which is exactly what he has done

  • Brendan Heading

    That’d be an interesting question for a criminal lawyer. There may be something around fraud/deception/false representation but it seems tenuous.

    But it’s academic as SF didn’t produce that material to give to Bryson; someone in the DUP did that. Before long, I suspect that person or persons will be named.