Thursday 8 December 2016

TDs hit out at 'hands-off' McGuinness over Project Eagle deal

Published 17/11/2016 | 02:30

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Photo: PA
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Photo: PA

Martin McGuinness has been accused of a "hands-off approach" and "wishful ignorance" to the controversial Project Eagle deal.

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The North's deputy first minister appeared before the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which is examining the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book.

The Sinn Féin MLA hit back, claiming TDs were "point-scoring" and "grandstanding".

He argued that there had been a "determined effort" by the DUP to prevent him getting access to information about the Project Eagle sale process.

Mr McGuinness said he was unaware of various meetings that took place regarding the sale. These included a March 2014 meeting between then-DUP first minister Peter Robinson and former US vice-president Dan Quayle - a representative of Cerberus, the ultimate buyer of Project Eagle.

Mr McGuinness said a memorandum of understanding sent to Nama by Mr Robinson's office the previous January was "not worth the paper it was written on" because he hadn't approved it. Mr McGuinness told the PAC that at the time, relations between Sinn Féin and the DUP were "appallingly bad" after a row over the DUP reneging on plans to build a peace centre on the site of the old Maze/Long Kesh Prison.

But Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan said she was struck by Mr McGuinness's "hands-off approach". She put it to him that he had opportunities to raise Project Eagle with the DUP to find out what was happening. Mr McGuinness said that she was "wrong" and that the information he was given at the time was "scant".

Labour TD Alan Kelly suggested to Mr McGuinness that it was more "politically acceptable" for Sinn Féin to allow the DUP to deal with the "potentially toxic" Project Eagle sale. Mr Kelly said there was an "almost wishful ignorance" on Sinn Féin's part and it "wasn't credible" that Mr McGuinness wouldn't be pushing to find out what was going on.

Mr McGuinness rejected this and said it is "absolute rubbish" to claim Sinn Féin wanted to avoid the issue because it could be toxic.

The PAC has sent a renewed invitation for Mr Robinson to appear before TDs. The committee is probing Project Eagle after the Comptroller and Auditor General found that a probable loss of £190m (€223m) was incurred in the 2014 deal. Nama has rejected this finding.

Separately, an executive from Cerberus will today tell TDs that the firm is "confident" that no illegal payments have been made by it or its affiliates in connection with Project Eagle. Chief operating officer Mark Neporent will also insist that Cerberus didn't "direct or authorise" anyone to make such payments on its behalf.

Irish Independent

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