Tuesday 21 January 2020

Gilmore and Noonan accept Nama's here to stay -- but not in its present form

THE two parties most likely to form the next Government are in agreement that, if they get into power, Nama will not continue as it is.

But in separate interviews, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and Fine Gael's new finance spokesman, Michael Noonan, have admitted that Nama cannot now be abolished.

Both men said that a Nama II bill was inevitable -- but that the scale of any future changes to the scheme could not yet be quantified.

Eamon Gilmore, who last week described Nama as a "social welfare scheme for developers", said yesterday: "If new legislation is necessary to reform Nama, then I will do it."

In a significant alternative to the current Government's long-term strategy to resolve the property crisis over the course of 10 years, the Labour leader also said he was "going to get the State out of Nama as swiftly as possible".

Mr Gilmore told the Sunday Independent it would have to be a priority to "navigate the taxpayer out of this terrain" and that the "job of the State is health, education and public infrastructure -- not running a great big property company."

The Labour leader admitted that reversing Nama was like "getting your eggs back from an omelette" -- but he also made it clear "this does not mean it is not reformable."

Mr Gilmore said the agency's status as "a gold card version of social employment" for lawyers and accountants "would be out under a Labour government".

He also confirmed that any ongoing scenario whereby the agency would continue to act as what he called "a social welfare scheme for bankrupt developers" would end.

Meanwhile, in a cautiously worded series of replies to this newspaper, Fine Gael's Michael Noonan said he believed that a "Nama II bill" would inevitably be needed.

He warned that if the State lost the High Court challenge by businessman Paddy McKillen -- who does not have 'non-performing loans' but is being dragged into Nama because of the size of his loan book -- "the implications would be very serious for the architecture of the (Nama) organisation".

He said: "If there was a judgment that Nama could not acquire unimpaired or performing assets, then it would be difficult to see how Nama could fund its running costs during the several years before it could dispose of assets."

Mr Noonan added that the current uncertainty about how the McKillen challenge would play out meant that while "we will be facing a Nama II bill, whether it is of major or minor import depends on the court case."

John Drennan

Sunday Independent

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