Thursday 23 October 2014

Zeal to wind up NAMA a cause for concern

Published 14/08/2014 | 02:30

The government appear keen to wind down NAMA ahead of the next general election. Newscast/UIG via Getty Images
The government appear keen to wind down NAMA ahead of the next general election. Newscast/UIG via Getty Images

The legal battle between Cork developer Michael O'Flynn and Blackstone, the US private equity group, has shone a light on the fate of some developers whose loans were transferred to NAMA at the height of the global economic crisis in 2009.

It has also drawn attention to the role of NAMA and the Government's apparent determination to see the toxic loan agency's work completed well in advance of its initial projected lifetime.

Many developers complained bitterly about the conditions imposed on them and their businesses by NAMA, whose mandate is to realise the best value for the heavily discounted loans it assumed from bailed-out banks.

Some, like the O'Flynn Group - whose loans were sold to Blackstone by NAMA - may have preferred to stay with the agency. Yesterday, the O'Flynn Group succeeded in having the appointment of an interim examiner set aside, a move that should give the group breathing space to repay its loans. But it may not be enough to prevent the group falling, in time, under the control of Blackstone. That, for Irish taxpayers, is a worry.

Blackstone is one of a small group of predominantly American private equity giants buying up the bulk of distressed Irish loans and assets from NAMA.

The over-reliance on such a small group of powerful firms is a matter of concern given the scale of the bank bailout. Strategically, as the economy has turned the corner, the Coalition would be far better investing in Irish companies rather than forcing them into the hands of venture capitalists, like Blackstone with its history.

The Government's apparent zeal to wind down NAMA and remove it from the public narrative ahead of the next general election has many hazards.

Ultimately, the Coalition must safeguard the interests of the taxpayer. Nama does not satisfy that value in any category in this case.

Dr Brady's legacy

The anticipated acceptance by Pope Francis of the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady will be a welcome relief for the man and for the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The All-Ireland Primate, the country's most senior cleric, has faced a cacophony of calls for his resignation, most recently by two survivors of clerical abuse who met the Pontiff.

Last month, Marie Kane and Mark Vincent Healy both demanded publicly that Dr Brady leave his position.

Cardinal Brady, who became Primate in 1996, is required under canon law to offer his resignation after his 75th birthday, which falls on Saturday.

But he can only stand aside with permission from the Pope.

Cardinal Brady, like the former Archbishop of Dublin Cardinal Desmond Connell, has not only had to deal with the fallout of the clerical abuse crisis.

He has also faced sustained questions about the personal role, albeit a junior one, that he played in a 1975 secret canonical trial involving the late Brendan Smyth, possibly the most prolific child abuser in Ireland.

History will be much kinder to Cardinal Brady, who, save for the clerical abuse crisis, has enjoyed a successful ministry over the course of a lifetime commitment to the church in Ireland.

The Catholic Church has been preparing for his succession: Archbishop Eamon Martin has been waiting in the wings since last year.

Dr Martin assumes the role of Primate without the burden of the abuse crisis.

But if the church is to thrive, it will fall to the new Primate to draw a full line under decades of scandals that have felled previous leaders.

Irish Independent

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