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Saturday 23 August 2014

Noonan warned not to sell off Nama as election ploy

John Drennan and Ronald Quinlan

Published 13/07/2014 | 02:30

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Finance spokesman Michael Noonan
Finance spokesman Michael Noonan

FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan has been warned not to play politics with Nama's future in a cynical bid to boost the Government's chances of retaining power at the next election.

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Speculation is growing that Mr Noonan will shortly call for a rapid sell-off of Nama's remaining multi-billion euro loan portfolio.

Both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein believe the ground is now being laid for an election campaign where Fine Gael will boast of ridding voters of two of the biggest legacies of Ireland's economic crash - Anglo Irish Bank and Nama.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said there was "an obvious temptation for the Government to go before the Irish people at the next election and say 'we have got rid of NAMA'".

Deputy McGrath insisted should such a deviation from the original plan to wind down Nama's operations by 2020 take place, it must be informed by an independent assessment of what would deliver the best return for the taxpayer as opposed to any political imperative.

He added: "I remain firmly of the view that commercial decisions are best made by the agency and not by its political masters. Nama was initiated as a long-term project. It is delivering on its mandate and should be allowed to continue its work free from having to operate to short-term political considerations."

Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty echoed this: "Obviously it would be politically-advantageous if the Government could say 'we got rid of Anglo, we got out of the bailout and we got rid of Nama." Mr Doherty said speculation that a quick-fire disposal of Nama's remaining portfolio had intensified in the wake of the agency's recent sale of its entire Northern Ireland loan book.

The so-called Project Eagle deal, which was completed last month, saw Nama offload loans with a par value of some €5.6bn to US investment giant Cerberus Capital Management for a sum believed to be in the region of €1.3bn.

Referring to that transaction, Mr Doherty criticised Nama, saying its purpose was to act as an asset management agency as opposed to engaging in what he described as "fire sales".

In a speech to Waterford Chamber of Commerce last week, Nama chairman Frank Daly defended his agency's timing, insisting that Nama was required by law to conduct its work "expeditiously".

Responding to a Dail 
question on July 1 last, Mr Noonan heightened speculation on Nama's future further when he said: "Separately, a strategic review of Nama is underway under section 227 of the Nama Act 2009. As part of this review, I am examining and will be discussing with Nama a range of potential strategic alternatives to take advantage of current market conditions."

The Sunday Independent understands the Department of Finance's review has been largely directed by second secretary general Ann Nolan and its head of shareholder services, Des Carville.

The department's outgoing Secretary General, John Moran, is understood to have absented himself from the 
deliberations to avoid what one source described as "any perception or risk of perception of conflict" in the event that he may take up a position in financial services at any time in the future. Meanwhile, the mood of the country's developers has been buoyed up by talk that the agency's operations could be wound down shortly.

Fuelling the rumour mill is the suggestion in a recent Irish Times report that Nama CEO Brendan McDonagh could succeed John Corrigan as chief executive of the NTMA when he retires in December.

A number of developers have interpreted this as a sign that Nama will be wound up, or at least have its activities subsumed into the NTMA's wider operations.

Sunday Independent

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