Business Irish

Thursday 29 September 2016

Gilmore asked Nama to buy back plush Booterstown site

Oireachtas members lobbied State agency for constituents

Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30

The then-Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore wrote to Nama. Photo: Frank McGrath
The then-Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore wrote to Nama. Photo: Frank McGrath

Former Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore wrote to Nama last year, asking if the State agency would offer to buy back a five-acre site in the plush Dublin suburb of Booterstown that it had sold for development two years earlier - saying local groups believed the property should be used as a public park, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

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Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show Gilmore lobbied Nama on behalf of a constituent who wanted the site - which adjoins Booterstown nature reserve - purchased by Nama and sold to the local councils.

"My constituent has queried the requirement for Nama to provide a 'social dividend', which would contribute to the social and economic development of the State . . . she is wondering whether Nama would offer to purchase the site to resell to the councils for the public and environmental good to protect it from developments that threaten protected habitats and areas," Gilmore's email reads.

"My constituent believes that the site has limited value as its potential for either commercial or indeed active recreational development is severely constrained by the existing zonings under the current Dublin City Council and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Development Plans and by its proximity to the Booterstown Nature Reserve.

"Local environment and heritage groups met with Nama in December 2011 to request this open land be sold to the Dublin City Council and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Councils as a public park to safeguard the area.

"I would be obliged if you could furnish me with a response on this matter."

Estate agents Knight Frank listed the property, which it described as a "unique development opportunity situated on the Dublin seafront with spectacular views across Dublin Bay" for sale in January 2014, guiding a price of €1m. Knight Frank's James Meagher said it was "an excellent opportunity to acquire a very rare high-profile five-acre site in the Dublin 4 area.

A spokeswoman for Gilmore said Nama's reply was that the site was sold by the appointed receiver in 2012 following an extensive open market campaign, which included advertisements in the national press.

"The sales process undertaken was fully in accordance with Nama's statutory obligation to recoup the maximum possible return from its loan book for the taxpayer. For your information, Dublin City Council and Dùn Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council were afforded a final opportunity at the close of this sales process to match the highest bid received, however they declined to do so," the reply read.

Nama said that it was "not in a position to buy lands on the open market from third parties in order to resell it to local authorities or other public bodies at a loss."

The documents also show that in 2014, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney lobbied the agency on behalf of an individual looking for a premises.

"The Minister's Office is trying to assist him with a search for a potential premises... [the individual] has also enquired in his email if there is any surplus equipment held by Nama that his facility could apply for, he mentioned it in his email below and was wondering if there was a contact point he could discuss this matter with," the email to Nama from a Coveney aide reads.

A separate email from a Coveney aide - also sent in 2014 - asks the agency to "look into" issues raised by a woman who had contacted Coveney trying to get a rent reduction for her business.

"I understand . . . she is very anxious to have the matter resolved as she has been served an eviction notice".

In 2013, Junior Finance Minister Simon Harris asked Nama if it was taking on accountancy staff, and if it was, how somebody could go about applying for a role.

"I have been contacted by a constituent who is an Accountant Technician and has Asperger's Syndrome, a condition on the autistic spectrum. This disability would in no way infringe on their work. Thank you for your assistance and I look forward to hearing from you," Harris's email reads.

Harris was one of the Oireachtas members in most frequent contact with Nama in the period the documents cover - July 7, 2011 to May 7, 2015.

He sent the agency 16 emails before he was appointed a junior minister in July of last year, and one thereafter.

In 2012 Jobs Minister Richard Bruton contacted Nama on behalf of a constituent who wanted to secure construction work.

"[The constituent] would like to know if Nama have selected a panel of contractors for their planned construction contracts and to whom workers might apply".

Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy last year asked the agency how building companies that had contacted her could apply for work with Nama, saying the firms were facing difficult trading conditions.

"Many of these SMEs have been established for over 30 years but, due to the economic downturn, are finding it very difficult to remain in business".

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