AT A breakfast meeting hosted by the Construction Industry Federation in Cork last week, Tom Parlon of the CIF challenged Nama chairman Frank Daly over the construction sector in Ireland.
"Is there an element of too much caution?" he asked Daly. "You need to move on. You're the biggest property developer in the world. You need to take advantage of the upswing."
"It is a fair point," Daly conceded at the meeting, which was attended by many builders from the area. "Does Nama need to be more adventurous? Is Nama in a position where it needs to get braver? Yes it is. But we have to remember we are dealing with taxpayers' money. And no matter who you put on the board, it will still be taxpayers' money and it will still be answerable to the PAC."
Daly said the 'bad bank' wants to start planning ahead. He gave special mention to Dublin's Docklands. "We know there is going to be a demand for prime office space in Dublin within two to three years. And we have the money to invest. We have plans for the docklands."
The area has already been transformed with the help of some of the most high-profile developers on Nama's books. But Daly is still not keen to change the legislation and allow developers greater scope to buy back their assets and start afresh.
"I don't really see the legislation being changed right now," Daly said after the CIF breakfast. "Who knows... in five or 10 years' time that might change -- but right now it's not an issue for us."
Before the breakfast meeting, Tom Parlon was insistent: "Nama won't solve the problem -- it's the people working with them who will. The guys who have the speculative experience."
When Nama was established, says Parlon, "there was political pressure... that the developers should be hung, drawn and quartered".
But at the meeting, Daly says otherwise. "It was never optics. It was always to do with the business," he avers.
What about Battersea Power Station in London? The site was sold by Nama and other investors for €483m just 18 months ago. Since then, it has been identified repeatedly as an asset that has risen sharply in value. It is now being developed into a high-profile area for apartments and offices.
But Daly told the Sunday Independent: "We got a very good deal. We have no regrets."
Later Tom Parlon repeats his idea that it's time to move on, and let talented developers back into the fold -- and also to encourage Government to reboot its capital expenditure.
"We have been getting good vibes and I have access into the Taoiseach's office. If we need to meet him down in his constituency, the president of our Civil Engineering Contractors Association is a Mayo man, Charles Wills. He would arrange it and we would go down to his constituency.
"I would find this current Government very accessible, whereas for four or five years the industry was deemed to be toxic and people thought that we were part of the guys who got us into trouble -- they would feel 'we can't be seen talking to them'."