Opposition accused of 'witch hunt' against Noonan
The two main Opposition parties are demanding that Finance Minister Michael Noonan appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer questions on his failure to intervene prior to Nama's controversial sale of Project Eagle.
As Nama itself remains under major pressure following the publication of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, a bitter political row has erupted.
Both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are demanding to know whether Mr Noonan could have intervened prior to the sale of the €1.6bn Northern loan book, which will now be the subject of a statutory inquiry. The C&AG report found that the State lost €220m as a result of the sale of the portfolio to US firm Cerberus.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday accused Opposition TDs of launching a "witch hunt" against his Cabinet colleague, adding that Mr Noonan would answer questions on the issue in the Dáil chamber.
"Ministers do not go before the Public Accounts Committee. It's not how it's set up. It's not how it's run," Mr Varadkar told RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics', before accusing members of the Opposition of a "witch hunt".
On two occasions, Mr Varadkar said he could not answer specific questions on Mr Noonan's engagement with Nama prior to the sale.
However, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald described Mr Varadkar's stance as "lamentable" and said Mr Noonan must appear before the PAC.
"The failure of Michael Noonan when it became absolutely evident that . . . the bidding process had been corrupted. Michael Noonan failed to intervene, failed to give direction to halt the whole thing, that's what he should have done," Ms McDonald said.
"If Michael Noonan refuses to come before the committee, it renders his position untenable."
The PAC is due to meet over the issue of Project Eagle on September 29 and October 6.
Committee chairman and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said it is "incumbent" on any member of the Oireachtas who may have information - including Mr Noonan - to appear in front of the committee.
"Michael Noonan is a link in the chain," Mr Fleming said, adding that he is "hopeful" the Minister will accept the invitation.
A spokesman for the Minister said last night: "The Minister for Finance will review the invite when he returns to work on Monday and will make a decision on that thereafter.
"It is not normal practice for a Minister to appear before the PAC. The Department of Finance will cooperate fully with the PAC as the Department always does."
Also speaking yesterday, NAMA's audit committee chairman Brian McEnery criticised the C&AG for not getting external experts prior to publishing its assessment of the Project Eagle sale.
Meanwhile, investors have been given until October 18 to submit first-round bids for the massive €3bn 'Project Gem' portfolio.
As revealed by the Irish Independent last week, the huge portfolio of predominantly commercial mortgage loans is secured by 392 properties.
The loans were originally taken out by 38 borrowers, who initally owed a combined total of just over €3bn.
The loans are secured mainly on property in the Republic, but also in Germany and the UK.
The properties are a mix of commercial property, buy-to-let residential properties, hotels and development sites.