Following last week’s resignation of Daithí McKay as a Sinn Féin MLA amid claims he had “coached” loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson before his appearance as a witness to the Stormont NAMA inquiry, Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir denied knowing about a back channel of communication between the two individuals. Mr Ó Muilleoir, who was on the committee, was directly referenced in a direct Twitter message from Sinn Féin party member – since suspended – Thomas O’Hara to Mr Bryson. On Tuesday, Stormont’s Finance Committee called upon Mr Ó Muilleoir to step down during an investigation, but Mr Ó Muilleoir has said attempts to link him to the scandal were “no more than petty party politicking”.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has decided not to recover over £60,000 in MLAs’ expenses despite accepting that the regularity of the payments is in doubt. Earlier this year a row erupted between the Independent Financial Review Panel and the Assembly Commission in relation to rules surrounding expenses. They both later acknowledged “differences on the interpretation and implementation” of the rules and pledged to work together to solve the problem. As revealed by the BBC, a review of the payments at the centre of the dispute found that transactions between April 2012 and December 2012 that had been queried were valid. The Assembly is not seeking to recover any of the money, saying MLAs submitted their claims “in good faith”.
This week Virgin Trains released CCTV footage disputing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s recent claim of overcrowding on one of its services. In a video shared by Mr Corbyn’s team, he sat on the floor between carriages on a train from London to Newcastle saying he was experiencing a problem “many passengers face every day”. On Tuesday, Virgin said its CCTV footage showed Mr Corbyn and his team walking past available seats before filming their video. On Sunday, Labour shadow Chancellor John McDonnell claimed Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson wanted to “undermine” democracy after the row. Mr McDonnell described Sir Richard as a “tax exile”, and suggested he should be stripped of his knighthood.
Welsh Conservative Party leader Andrew RT Davies has claimed that, given current “strong anti-establishment thinking” reflected in the recent Brexit vote, Welsh voters would turn down devolution today if a referendum were held on the Assembly’s existence. Devolution in Wales was established following a referendum in 1997; 50.3% of voters voted ‘Yes’ to devolution and 49.7% voted ‘No’ on a turnout of 50.1%. In June, Wales voted to leave the European Union, as did England. Northern and Scotland voted to stay in the EU. The Welsh Labour Party, which leads the Government in Wales, and official opposition Plaid Cymru both campaigned for the UK to remain within the EU, while Mr Davies campaigned to leave.
On the topic of Brexit, this week former UKIP leader Nigel Farage joined a Donald Trump rally in Jackson, Mississippi, welcomed as the man who brought about Britain’s independence from the EU. Mr Farage said he came to America with “a message of hope and optimism”. Although saying it would be wrong for a foreign politician to intervene in a US election – like, he said, US President Barack Obama had intervened in the Brexit referendum debate – he stated he would not vote for Mr Trump’s rival candidate Hillary Clinton if he was paid. An interesting turn of events. You can catch Jamie Pow’s thoughts in his recent blog post: When Nigel met Donald (and why they’re both wrong).