Wednesday 22 November 2017

Noonan set for PAC quiz over why he failed to halt Nama deal

Finance Minister Michael Noonan could face grilling Picture: Damien Eagers
Finance Minister Michael Noonan could face grilling Picture: Damien Eagers
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan faces being questioned by the Dáil spending watchdog over the controversial Nama Project Eagle deal.

Public Accounts Committee chairman Sean Fleming has proposed Mr Noonan be called to explain why he did not call a halt to the sale of the Northern Ireland loan portfolio after learning of concerns about the activities of former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan.

A Stormont inquiry report has criticised Mr Noonan's judgment on the issue.

Mr Fleming's move is considered unusual as the committee normally calls State officials rather than politicians.

The PAC chairman's comments ratchet up the pressure on Mr Noonan ahead of the expected publication today of a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General.

C&AG Seamus McCarthy has found that Nama potentially lost hundreds of millions of euro due to shortcomings in the sales process.

This contradicts assertions by Mr Noonan that Nama adhered to its mandate to achieve the best return for the taxpayer.

The findings are expected to be robustly contested by Nama.

Mr McCarthy's report, which is said to run to 120 pages, is due to be published following a Cabinet meeting today.

But there is not expected to be any announcement about a commission of investigation.

Such an inquiry had looked inevitable following revelations about the C&AG's findings and payments received by Mr Cushnahan from a Nama debtor.

But it appears the Government will insist the C&AG report is examined by the PAC before any further moves are taken.

The PAC is to quiz Mr McCarthy on his findings on September 29 and will hear evidence from Nama chairman Frank Daly and chief executive Brendan McDonagh later that day. Mr Fleming said he would be proposing that the committee invite Mr Noonan to answer questions at a subsequent hearing.

He said Mr Noonan, if the committee agrees to call him, would be asked to explain why he called for the speeding up of the sell-off of Nama assets.

The minister could shed light on contacts between ministers in the North and his office about the sale, Mr Fleming said.

The PAC chairman said the question also had to be asked of Nama and the minister as to why the sale was not abandoned after it emerged Mr Cushnahan was in line for a payment of Stg£5m from one of the bidders, if it was successful.

The bidder, investment firm Pimco, subsequently pulled out, and a rival company, Cerberus Asset Management bought the portfolio for €1.6bn the following month.

Mr Cushnahan was later secretly recorded telling two associates that he had been due a Stg£6m payment for facilitating the deal.

Cerberus has denied wrongdoing and making any improper payments.

How Kenny and Noonan reacted to inquiry calls

"If actions are found to be improper or criminal, it was at the purchaser side, not at the seller side. Nama did everything possible and got the best price for the Irish taxpayer." - Finance Minister Michael Noonan on July 9 last year, after UK police began investigating the Project Eagle deal

"I can see no benefit of such an investigation because up to now there has been no allegation of wrongdoing directed towards Nama."

- Mr Noonan on October 21 last year, when asked whether there should be a commission of investigation

"No, I will not. There has not been any allegation of wrongdoing against Nama."

- Taoiseach Enda Kenny on May 31, after Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams asked whether he would set up a commission of investigation

"Now I remember reading Alice in Wonderland and I don't know whether it was the Mad Hatter or the dormouse who said: 'Verdict first, trial afterwards'. But that's the kind of due process that's being advocated here."

- Mr Noonan on June 29, rejecting calls from Independent TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly for a commission of investigation

"Some of what's being said about it is incorrect. I mean, there's nothing in it that suggests there's anything illegal, anything improper, or any irregularities in the way that Nama behaved."

- Mr Noonan on Monday, playing down the prospect of an immediate inquiry following revelations the Comptroller & Auditor General was critical of the price Nama received for the Project Eagle loans

"If I find or our colleagues in Government find that this is a case that has to be examined, then I won't be opposed to that."

- Mr Kenny on Monday

"I will meet with the leaders of the Opposition to discuss what, if anything, needs to be done, or can be done."

- Mr Kenny yesterday, not ruling out an inquiry in or out

Irish Independent

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