Irish News

Thursday 10 July 2014

NAMA warned to answer questions - or face inquiry

McKillen: 'I am happy to work with the Gardai or any State investigation'

Published 22/12/2013|02:30

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Senator Lorraine Higgins
Senator Lorraine Higgins

THE chairman of the Dail's Public Accounts Committee John McGuinness has warned that a "full public inquiry" into Nama's operations will be necessary if it fails to address the controversy now surrounding its operations.

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"Any failure by Nama or the Department of Finance to deal fully and comprehensively with the stark concerns raised last week will inevitably create a crisis of confidence in the public that can only be solved by a full public inquiry into Nama," Mr McGuinness told the Sunday Independent.

The PAC chairman wasn't alone in his warning to officials at Nama and the Department of Finance.

Fianna Fail Senator Darragh O'Brien, whose Seanad intervention last Monday proved to be the catalyst for a week of extraordinary and potentially damaging claims in relation to the State's so-called bad bank, said: "The case for a sustained public inquiry by the Oireachtas into Nama is compelling. The volume of complaints being received across all parties is astonishing."

Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins claimed a senior government figure attempted to gag her on Nama, warning her that there would be "implications" for her career if she failed to comply.

Ms Higgins, a Galway-based barrister turned senator, controversially used Seanad privilege last Tuesday to make allegations about a former Nama portfolio manager.

"They have tried to scoff at me, to stop me from exercising my democratic right and my mandate. It hasn't stopped me, nor will it stop me," she added.

Independent TD and PAC member Shane Ross said the relationship between the Department of Finance and Nama was "too chummy" and has led calls for proper and fully independent oversight of the embattled agency.

"Nobody has a clear take of what is going on in Nama, it all happens behind closed doors. The culture is too secretive. There must be real and proper independent oversight of Nama now," he said.

Fine Gael TD and PAC member Eoghan Murphy said there was a real urgency to ensure adequate oversight of Nama.

While Nama chairman Frank Daly told the PAC last Friday that the agency believed it was now dealing with an "organised campaign of disinformation" designed to "undermine the effectiveness of Nama, and, none too subtly influence its decisions", his response and that of the agency's chief executive Brendan McDonagh has so far failed to satisfy the committee's chairman and others within the Oireachtas.

Mr McGuinness said: "NAMA put a great deal of material into the public domain and set out their stall. They are likely to be called back and to have these answers challenged, for it is obvious there are other sides to the story."

Commenting on a series of heavily redacted emails relating to Nama sent by the Department of Finance to the PAC, he warned: "The department is going to have to put its emails fully into the public domain. Once that is played out, the PAC may have to call Secretary General John Moran to appear before it again.''

A claim by former Nama portfolio manager Enda Farrell that he passed confidential information held by the agency in relation to the financial affairs of property tycoon Paddy McKillen to a third party was among the more extraordinary and potentially serious allegations to surface last week.

While Nama chiefs insisted last Friday that Mr Farrell, who is currently under investigation by gardai for leaking information to outside companies during his tenure, had directly contradicted previous sworn statements with his claim that he had provided a "full file" on Mr McKillen to that third party, the Belfast-born businessman said last night that he would provide whatever "information and assistance" he could to any inquiry which might be held.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr McKillen said: "I am happy to work with the gardai or any State investigation into this."

While Mr McKillen lodged a formal complaint with gardai last week on foot of the allegations which were now being made, a spokesman for the agency said yesterday that: "No executives at the agency have been interviewed by gardai as a result of the allegations this week."

Separate to the current controversy, Mr O'Brien questioned Nama's current strategy in relation to its multibillion-euro portfolio, saying: "Selling property at the bottom of a rising market raises fundamental issues as to whether the interests of the taxpayer are being short sold in a way that will cost the taxpayer billions."

Demands for an inquiry by members of the Oireachtas aren't merely confined to the PAC or the Seanad. Labour TD Kevin Humphreys last night said there was now a need for the Dail's Finance Committee to engage in what he termed "a forensic investigation, in private or public, of Nama''.

And last Wednesday night, the Fine Gael parliamentary party's weekly meeting heard calls from Taoiseach Enda Kenny's constituency colleague, Michelle Mulherin for the Oireachtas to "move swiftly" to establish an oversight committee to oversee Nama's operations.

"The original legislation by Brian Lenihan envisaged scrutiny by an Oireachtas Committee that has never been followed through. I believe that when it comes to Nama we have a flawed system of accountability."

Even the most senior members of the Fine Gael party are now expressing their concern with a minister telling the Sunday Independent: "There are now serious concerns about NAMA and the absence of transparency surrounding its operations."

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly, writing in today's Sunday Independent has said the allegations have adversely affected Nama's reputation.

BY RONALD QUINLAN, JOHN DRENNAN, DANIEL McCONNELL and ROISIN BURKE

Irish Independent

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