MPs query failure of Executive and Cerberus to agree terms

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers feels deal is issue for NI Executive

British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the House of Commons has described as “strange” the failure of the Northern Ireland Executive and Cerberus to agree a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). It raised the issue with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, who replied that any questions about why no MoU was agreed with Cerberus before the sale went through is “an issue for the Northern Ireland Executive”.

Her reply was published this week in a report by the committee on banking in Northern Ireland. The Northern Secretary is quoted as saying she believed it was important that “Cerberus lives up to its commitment to be a good partner for Northern Ireland”.

Her office has confirmed she did not meet any representatives of Cerberus Capital in advance of its purchase of Nama’s portfolio in the North. Ms Villiers also received no courtesy briefing in advance from Nama to inform her that it had agreed a £1.2 billion (€1.7 billion) deal to offload its Northern Ireland loans to Cerberus.

In the six years that Nama had a presence in the North, it officially met with the Northern Secretary just once – in July 2013 – to brief her on its work.

Just days before the agency announced the sale of its Northern loan portfolio in April 2014, Ms Villiers had publicly advocated that Nama should take a “longer-term approach” regarding the disposal of its bad loans in the North.

Ms Villiers has also said Northern Ireland’s Minister of Finance and Personnel, Arlene Foster, has previously stated that her department does not have a MoU with Cerberus.

Instead, Mrs Foster said “arrangements are in place whereby my officials meet with representatives of Cerberus on a regular basis to discuss the firm’s activities in Northern Ireland and where they emphasise my expectation that borrowers are treated in a balanced, fair and transparent manner”.

The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister has refused to comment on why no MoU was agreed between the NI Executive and Cerberus relating to its purchase of Nama’s loan portfolio locally.

The NI Assembly’s Committee for Finance and Personnel has been anxious to hear from Cerberus about its “work and role” in the local economy.