Noonan and Kenny strongly dispute PAC findings on Cerberus meeting

Committee finds Noonan’s meeting with US firm not ‘procedurally appropriate’

The PAC, with chair Sean Fleming, examining the Nama sale of Project Eagle, from left Alan Farrell, Catherine Connolly, David Cullenane and Peter Burke. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The PAC, with chair Sean Fleming, examining the Nama sale of Project Eagle, from left Alan Farrell, Catherine Connolly, David Cullenane and Peter Burke. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A conclusion by the Public Accounts Committee that it was not “procedurally appropriate” for Michael Noonan to meet a large US investment firm on the eve of its bid for Project Eagle has been strongly disputed by the Minister for Finance and by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

In its report on the controversial disposal by Nama of its Northern Ireland portfolio, the PAC criticises Mr Noonan for meeting senior representatives of Cerberus, the US investment firm that was successful in its £1.1 billion bid for the portfolio.

In a politically-charged finding, the public spending watchdog – which has a reputation for being nonpartisan – split along party lines for the first time in its 94-year history, with the four Fine Gael members, and Labour’s Alan Kelly, opposing the conclusion. It was carried by eight votes to five.

The report is to be discussed by the Dáil next week, when the establishment of a commission of investigation into the sale is to be debated. In principle the main party leaders have agreed to the establishment of a commission, though the Dáil is likely to debate how much further it could take inquiries, with separate criminal investigations underway in the North.

In relation to Mr Noonan, the PAC report said it considers “it was not procedurally appropriate for the Minister for Finance to meet with senior Cerberus representatives the day before the Project Eagle closing date. That could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefiting from preferential treatment,” it stated.

Members of the committee, including chairman Sean Fleming, were also unhappy that Mr Noonan had failed to mention his meeting with Cerberus during five hours of testimony to the committee in October.

Mr Noonan was aware of a potentially adverse conclusion and wrote to the committee last month challenging the finding on the grounds of a lack of due process and a failure to afford him the right to respond. The text of his letter was included as an appendix to the report.

In a statement issued within minutes of the report’s publication yesterday, Mr Noonan said he was disappointed “unjustified and unfounded views” had made their way into the final report.

“I refute absolutely the validity of any suggestion that I or my officials acted inappropriately in meeting with Cerberus in March 2014. At no point was I or my officials invited to discuss this meeting at the PAC nor was the alleged impropriety of this meeting raised in follow-up correspondence.

“The note of the meeting with Cerberus is on the Department of Finance’s website and is clear in stating that any issue relating to Nama should be raised directly with Nama.”

Speaking in the US, Mr Kenny was asked should Mr Noonan resign on foot of the adverse conclusion. “Certainly not . . . Michael Noonan has acted entirely appropriately at all times,” he said.