Business Irish

Thursday 27 October 2016

'Wily old fox' Noonan sticks to his guns during grilling on Nama in North

Published 07/10/2016 | 02:30

Finance Minister Michael Noonan Picture: PA
Finance Minister Michael Noonan Picture: PA

Finance Minister Michael Noonan endured a five-hour grilling from TDs on Project Eagle. Afterwards he thanked TDs for their questions, adding: "I wouldn't say I enjoyed it but it was an interesting afternoon."

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And with that he was gone - off to last night's Cabinet meeting on the Budget.

Throughout the afternoon, as TDs threw everything they could at him, Mr Noonan stuck closely to his key points on his involvement in the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book.

They were essentially the following:

That there was no political pressure from him or his counterparts in the North for Nama to accelerate the sale.

If any pressure was being put on Nama to expedite its various sales it was from the European Central Bank.

That he couldn't legally intervene in the sales process as the Finance Minister has to stay out of Nama's commercial operations.

He responded to many of the questions by telling TDs they'd be better directed at Nama. And as for the row between the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), which says a probable loss of £190m (€223m) was made on the sale, and Nama, which rejects this finding?

Mr Noonan told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on a number of occasions that he hopes they'll be able to resolve that disagreement.

He insists he has "full confidence" in both organisations. There was frustration among a number of TDs at various stages. Labour's Alan Kelly asked him how he could have confidence in both given their disagreement over £190m. Mr Noonan replied: "One can have confidence even if they don't agree on every issue."

Fianna Fáil's Marc MacSharry at one point told him: "You're a wily old fox in talking down the clock", while Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald accused him or "filibustering at its most massive" later on.

There were also moments of characteristic Noonan wit to lighten proceedings.

Bobby Aylward of Fianna Fáil said one view of Project Eagle was that there was "no smoke without fire".

Mr Noonan quipped: "I believe that's scientifically incorrect."

But throughout the gruelling session Mr Noonan stuck doggedly to his main points. It was hard to get away from the impression that with PAC continuing its work and a separate State inquiry into Project Eagle soon to be launched, Mr Noonan is washing his hands of the controversy.

But he may not succeed. It's rare for a minister to appear at the PAC and Ms McDonald said that Mr Noonan may be invited back for more.

"I'm sure I'll be here every second week from now on," he added.

If he does come back, it's likely we'll hear the same responses all over again.

Irish Independent

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