Tuesday 27 September 2016

Just like Irish Water, Nama is fast losing the confidence of taxpayers

Published 16/09/2016 | 02:30

Anouska Proetta-Brandon takes part in an anti-Nama protest in 2009. Ministers believe a large chunk of the public have never had confidence in Nama. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Anouska Proetta-Brandon takes part in an anti-Nama protest in 2009. Ministers believe a large chunk of the public have never had confidence in Nama. Photo: Gerry Mooney

As the contents of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report into the sale of Project Eagle were laid bare at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, the eyes of several ministers glazed over.

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As one Fine Gael figure present put it afterwards: "I felt a real sense of déjà vu. It was like Irish Water all over again."

Indeed, the controversy that has engulfed Nama and the sale of its Northern Ireland loan book shares at least some of the hallmarks of the Irish Water debacle.

Once again we have an agency of the State that is facing accusations of not acting in the best interests of the taxpayer.

Similar to the Irish Water controversy, the more populist members of the Oireachtas are demanding that the operations of Nama be brought to a halt.

And, as was the case two-and-a-half years ago, the Government of the day is under serious pressure to get to grips with the latest scandal that has crossed its desk.

But above all, we now have a situation once again where a body set up to serve the best interests of the taxpayer is fast losing public confidence.

In fact, some ministers believe a large chunk of the public has never had confidence in Nama because it has, since its formation in 2009, operated under a cloud of unrivalled secrecy.

Telling an impatient and untrusting public that a body that handles billions of euro worth of property transactions must be able to operate in secret won't wash in modern-day Ireland.

This is a public that just last month - whether rightly or wrongly - was told the State coffers have lost out on €13bn as a result of an alleged sweetheart deal extended to Apple.

Now, according to C&AG Seamus McCarthy, Nama has signed off on a bad deal in relation to its sale of Project Eagle to US investment firm Cerberus, leaving the State nursing a loss of €220m.

The public has every right to feel aggrieved.

After all, they have been presented with details of success fees involving a former insider Frank Cushnahan, as well as allegations of a far more sinister nature courtesy of Mick Wallace and BBC's 'Spotlight' programme.

And so, perhaps like Irish Water, there is now serious doubt surrounding the prospect of Nama ever winning over the public's trust.

That is not just one of the major challenges facing Nama boss Frank Daly and his senior officials, but also Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan.

Mr Kenny and his party were not responsible for setting up the country's bad bank but, like a lot of things, they have inherited it from their predecessors in government.

Without doubt, Mr Kenny and Noonan don't want a scenario whereby the Nama issue becomes synonymous with this administration.

And so, the decision by the Government yesterday to agree a statutory inquiry - in conjunction with the leaders of the Opposition - should be welcomed.

With law-enforcement agencies investigating in a number of different jurisdictions, the approach from Dublin is that an inquiry must not be rushed.

Every effort must now be made to ensure this latest probe can achieve the one single objective demanded by the public - unearthing the truth behind Project Eagle.

Irish Independent

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