McGuigan back in SF’s North Antrim hotseat

PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 27/11/2003:  Sinn Fein's Philip McGuigan (centre) with supporters after being elected as an MLA to the Northern Ireland Assembly in North Antrim today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 27/11/2003: Sinn Fein's Philip McGuigan (centre) with supporters after being elected as an MLA to the Northern Ireland Assembly in North Antrim today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

With the dust far from settled on the Bryson tweetgate controversy, North Antrim Sinn Fein have moved to replace Daithi McKay with Causeway Coast and Glens councillor, Philip McGuigan.

Mr McKay, the former Sinn Fein chairman of the Assembly’s finance committee who oversaw an investigation into Northern Ireland’s largest ever property deal during the last mandate resigned after the BBC and Irish News revealed he had been in contact with loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson before he gave explosive evidence to about the efforts of Ireland’s bank for bad loans to dispose of its Northern Ireland portfolio to US investors.

Speaking last week, Sinn Fein chief whip Caral Ni Chuilin said Mr McGuigan had been selected for co-option to the North Antrim seat following Mr McKay’s resignation when the sitting MLA said he accepted his actions were “inappropriate, ill-advised and wrong”.

Mr McGuigan was first elected to Ballymoney Council in 2001, aged 27.

He went on to win the Assembly seat for North Antrim in 2003 and served until 2007.

In 2007, Daithí McKay contested the North Antrim MLA seat and Mr McGuigan stood down as an MLA, remaining as a Sinn Féin councillor.

However, if the party believed the move to replace Mr. McKay would calm the waters, any such hopes were dashed when TUV leader Jim Allister contended that many more questions about the controversy needed to be answered.

He said: “Sinn Fein’s attempt to close down the Bryson collusion controversy has failed.

“There are too many unanswered questions for the sacrificing of McKay to be the end of the matter.

“The role and any complicity of other SF members on the committee require rigorous investigation, particularly the lead member Mairtin O’Muilleoir.

“The facilitating of Jamie Bryson required the cooperation of other SF members. Indeed, the reference to “Mairtin” in the tweets is suggestive that he was to be brought into the picture.

“Thus what contact was had with the current Finance minister at the time and by whom and to what effect, is all material. “Minister O’Muilleoir needs to clarify all this and certainly I will be suggesting to the current Finance committee that it should invite him to do so.”

Mr Ó Muilleoir, who was on the committee, was directly referenced in one direct message from Portglenone Sinn Fein acivtist Thomas O’Hara’s Twitter account to Mr Bryson’s which said: “I’m trying to establish what Máirtín or someone could jump on and say there’s no way we can turn him (Jamie Bryson) away, this is credible, relevant and in the public interest.”

Ulster Unionist Leader Mike Nesbitt and Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long have called for Mr Ó Muilleoir to step aside during an investigation, which Sinn Féin has said it would welcome.

But Mr Ó Muilleoir said attempts to link him to the scandal were “no more than petty party politicking”.

“I had no part in or knowledge of these inappropriate communications,” he said.