Tuesday 22 October 2019

Noonan 'tried to stop probe on Project Eagle sale'

Finance Minister Michael Noonan Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Finance Minister Michael Noonan Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Seán Fleming have clashed bitterly over the committee's probe of Project Eagle, the controversial sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book.

Mr Noonan accused Fianna Fáil TD Mr Fleming of making "false allegations" that he had not been open with the PAC about a meeting he had with Project Eagle buyers - US firm Cerberus - the day before the closing date for bids.

Mr Fleming claimed Mr Noonan had threatened to injunct the PAC and questioned his "fitness for office".

The PAC's report on the €1.6bn sale in 2014 included criticism of Mr Noonan's meeting with Cerberus, which was deemed "not procedurally appropriate" and claimed it could have given the perception of "preferential treatment". Fine Gael members of the committee objected to this finding.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Noonan said he and his officials "refute absolutely" any claim they "acted inappropriately". He said he was "shocked the PAC disregarded due process" and neither he nor his officials had an opportunity to discuss the PAC's concerns about the meeting. He accused some committee members of "political grandstanding" on the matter.

Read More: Nama property deal 'seriously deficient', says watchdog

Mr Noonan said details of the meeting were previously put in the public domain and the PAC never asked him any questions during his appearance at the committee.

He accused Mr Fleming of making "false allegations" on RTÉ that he "chose not to be open and upfront" about the Cerberus meeting and asked for this comment to be withdrawn.

Mr Fleming said he'd "repeat them again" and it was "a little bit rich" of the minister to complain he wasn't asked about the Cerberus meeting at the PAC when committee members didn't know about the meeting at the time he appeared.

He told Mr Noonan the PAC has not said he "acted inappropriately", rather that the procedure allowing the meetings was inappropriate and insisted that the PAC was "utterly fair to you".

Mr Fleming claimed he met Mr Noonan last month to discuss the matter and the minister concluded the conversation saying: "I can injunct you."

He added: "I would question your fitness for office when you threaten the chair of the Public Accounts Committee."

A spokesman for Mr Noonan said he had shared legal advice with Mr Fleming during "a friendly meeting".

Irish Independent

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