Concerns surfacing over role of Nama in North
The sale of the Invest NI building could be a ‘golden opportunity’ or a loss for Nama
Imagine then what the reaction from Nama’s top management must have been when the North’s Minister of Finance Sammy Wilson said a couple of weeks ago that he believed there could be a “golden opportunity” to purchase Invest NI’s headquarters for the knockdown price of £17 million.
“Invest NI leases the building through a PFI contract,” Wilson revealed. “However, the incumbent company went into administration and Invest NI can now buy back its headquarter building at a very competitive price.”
He hopes to be able to confirm the purchase by October and he is unlikely to be too worried about how Nama or the Irish Government may feel about losing out on possibly millions of pounds from the sale.
According to the agency’s latest update, it had approved £87 million in asset sales in the North up to the end of March of this year and is committed to providing funding to its Northern Ireland debtors totalling £123 million.
Publicly, Wilson has always praised the positive role that the agency has played in the North to date, but there are also hints that privately, tensions are beginning to emerge over Nama’s future direction in Northern Ireland.
Many businesses in the North have been lobbying the Minister of Finance over what they believe is a new harder line emerging from Nama to its debtors in Northern Ireland.
Some believe that Nama wants local businesses to sell assets now to write down their debts – irrespective of the impact this might have on the core business or their cash flow.
Those close to the Northern Ireland Executive have repeatedly warned that Nama is viewed very differently in the North than perhaps any other financial institution is and that there are political sensitivities surrounding the way it operates North of the Border.
“Nama is seen in Northern Ireland as a government body from the Republic of Ireland and if it jeopardises businesses in Northern Ireland and puts people out of work, then this will become a political issue – one that has the potential to reach the highest political levels,” one political leader has already warned.
Throw the sale of the corporate HQ of Invest NI into that already potent mix over the next couple of months and it could be a lot more than just a simple property transaction.