Monday 21 October 2019

Noonan casts doubt over fresh Nama probe amid media leak claim

Finance Minister Michael Noonan Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Finance Minister Michael Noonan Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A cabinet decision to agree to a commission of investigation into the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) was influenced by an inaccurate leak to the media, the Dáil has been told.

As Finance Minister Michael Noonan appeared to row back on commitments given to Opposition party leaders, a Fine Gael backbencher used Dáil privilege to allege that the Taoiseach's department was responsible for "spurious" reports about Nama.

Waterford TD John Deasy claimed that an official in Government Buildings wrongly told a newspaper last September "that irregularities had been cited by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his report into Project Eagle and Nama".

"That fabrication provided the justification in part for a Cabinet decision on the matter and a subsequent announcement of a commission of investigation," he said.

Mr Kenny said he had no knowledge of any individual spinning against Nama, adding that the decision to hold an investigation into Project Eagle followed a number of submissions from party leaders.

Opposition parties believe the Taoiseach gave a definitive commitment to establish a formal investigation into Project Eagle which comprised of almost all of Nama's assets in Northern Ireland.

Two Cabinet ministers last night told the Irish Independent that the discussion around establishing a commission came against a backdrop where they were worried about losing a Dáil vote on the issue.

"A lot of politicking went on at the time, but it was a pragmatic decision at the time," a source said.

However, despite the promise of a commission, Mr Noonan was yesterday accused of "muddying the waters".

The Oireachtas's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is due to publish the result of a probe into the Project Eagle deal within the next fortnight.

The PAC began its inquiry after the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) found that a probable loss of £190m (€223m) was incurred in the sale. Nama has rejected this finding.

Mr Noonan told the Dáil that Nama had answered every question put to it by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the PAC.

"Today, I do not believe that sufficient grounds have been established on which to progress a commission of investigation without first taking the views of the PAC into account," Mr Noonan said. He asked deputies to "step back and realise what an achievement" Nama had made in generating a profit of €2.3bn.

"I am well aware that last year, the Taoiseach invited, received and discussed submissions from party leaders on this matter and that, in principle, there was agreement to progress a commission of investigation, if required," he said.

Fianna Fáil's finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the minister was signalling "a shift in the Government's position".

"It is one thing to say that finalising the terms of reference should come after the publication of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts, but it is different entirely to say the decision as to whether to proceed with a commission is dependent on the content of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts," he said.

"We do not propose that a commission of investigation should go down every rabbit hole and examine every transaction in which Nama has been involved, because it would simply get lost and end up being a bonanza for the legal profession."

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace alleged Nama was "rotten to the core". "I believe the minister knows this. I do not believe for a second he thinks it is clean," he said.

Irish Independent

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