Tuesday 23 January 2018

Noonan hits out at draft paper claim over Project Eagle sale

Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Photo: Tom Burke
Finance Minister Michael Noonan. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Michael Noonan has hit out at criticism of him in a document on Nama's controversial Project Eagle sale - saying he rebuts an adverse finding against him "in the strongest terms".

A working paper prepared for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) stated that it was "not appropriate" for the Finance Minister to meet representatives of Cerberus - the firm that ultimately bought Nama's Northern Ireland loan book - the day before the bid's closing date.

"It could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefiting from special treatment," the document stated.

The working paper was the subject of reports in the media, and Mr Noonan has written to PAC chairman Seán Fleming saying that the conclusion in the draft document is "extremely damaging" to him and his officials. He said there must be a "right to reply" to such findings prior to a finalised report.

Mr Noonan raised concerns that he was never questioned about the Cerberus meeting by the PAC as he appeared at the Oireachtas Finance Committee yesterday.

Mr Noonan said he appeared voluntarily before the PAC and that "what the newspapers are now saying is the basis for an adverse finding against me was never raised with me in five hours of evidence".

The Finance Minister said the minutes of his meeting with Cerberus have been published online since 2015 and were sent to the PAC, which didn't subsequently raise questions with him about it.

Advice

"As I understand due process - an adverse finding can't be listed for anybody without giving them the right to reply. And the meeting that I had with Cerberus wasn't inappropriate in any way whatsoever," he said.

He says that the PAC has legal advice saying that the functions of Nama and the functions of the Finance Minister and the department "were entirely different".

"I had no legal right or no authority and didn't interfere with the commercial decisions of Nama," Mr Noonan said.

He had written to Mr Fleming "so I hope he'll straighten these things out".

Members of the PAC have been examining Project Eagle after a probe by the Comptroller and Auditor General last year found that a probable loss of £190m (€223m) was incurred in the €1.6bn 2014 sale.

Nama has rejected this finding.

The PAC met in private session last night to begin the process of finalising its report.

Irish Independent

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